What You Need To Know:
✅ There is still much speculation about what President Trump will do because there are many discrepancies between what he was saying and tweeting during his campaign and what the nominees of his administration are expressing;
✅ “The question is who is going to be leading the establishment;”
✅ Jarábik also discusses how Hungary, a country that also experienced a turn to traditionalism, can be a case study for the United States.
✅ “I think that we're going to see a more traditionalist foreign policy — classic if you like. One of the first things we saw right after the inauguration was that certain agendas were disappearing from the White House website – LGBTI, climate change, and those things.”
“The period of swallowing Trump's victory still hasn't reached Europe,” explains Balázs Jarábik, a non-resident Scholar at The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He goes on to say there is still much speculation about what President Trump will do because there are many discrepancies between what he was saying and tweeting during his campaign and what the nominees of his administration are expressing. “The question is who is going to be leading the establishment.”
Jarábik also discusses how Hungary, a country that also experienced a turn to traditionalism, can be a case study for the United States. Hungarian President Victor Orban, who is an ally of Russian President Putin, views himself as an illiberal democrat. When it comes to the United States, “I think that we're going to see a more traditionalist foreign policy — classic if you like,” says Jarábik. “One of the first things we saw right after the inauguration was that certain agendas were disappearing from the White House website — LGBTI, climate change, and those things.”
And while the next few weeks will show exactly what kind of president and what kind of foreign policy priorities can be expected from Donald Trump and the United States, Jarábik believes that Trump’s dividedness will be the most important issue for his administration.
Hromadske’s Nataliya Gumenyuk spoke to Balázs Jarábik, a non-resident Scholar at The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, via Skype on January 22, 2017 in Kyiv.
Balazs, you have the brilliant article, which is called "Hungarian Democratic New Feudalism," which explains more or less that Hungary in particular could be the case study on what the US can be under Trump. So how do you see that? What should we know?
I would divide my answer into two parts. First - the European reaction of Trump, and the second - how Hungary can be a case study for what Trump's America can be moving towards. European elites, particularly the EU elites, are very much frightened. There was a very emotional news piece in Der Spiegel, the German newspaper, which described that the European elites are afraid of what Trump can bring. They are also afraid, I think, to grow up security-wise. At the same time, they are afraid of him simply because they pretty much expected Hillary Clinton to win. The period of swallowing Trump's victory still hasn't reached Europe.
Donald Jr. Trump, Photo credit: Reuters
I think what we can expect from Donald Trump is so far, in the category of speculations. Simply because there is a big overlap between what he was saying - or let's say what he was tweeting as well as what his nominees — for example, General Mattis was sworn in as a Minister of Defense — were saying during the hearings, which were going in the past few weeks. There is a big discrepancy. The question is who is going to be leading the establishment, where lots of Trump's nominees belong, or Donald Trump's original ideas about foreign policy. Based on his speech, we can say that it is not necessarily that bad. I actually read the whole inauguration speech. He was going to the CIA headquarters yesterday, and I was reading his speech, which he delivered. In both cases he named the Islamic State as radical terrorism and the first priority. It was an important signal for the entire international community that the newly inaugurated president visited them as the first. I think it is also very important to recognize that his first meeting with a foreign dignitary is Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, and the Mexican president is going to be the second. So this is obviously telling a lot about his priorities. And it also means that Europe is not going to be his priority. His priorities will be radical Islamic terrorism, which opens up the question of Russian relations. But I think there is a lot of speculation, analytic speculations, that Trump's administration will try to contain China with the help of Russia. But these are obviously big picture cases and there need to be a lot of nitty-gritty implementation steps put forward, and I have to say, I don't think that Moscow is kind of ready.
What would be then the Hungarian view, with a very special government, which is a bit reminiscent of what Donald Trump represents. How is his administration seen by the government and people who support it, but also by society? Can you also explain your notion how Hungary can be the case study for the U.S.?
My theory is that essentially, what we've been seeing in Hungary in the past 8-10 years, was a so-called "traditionalist turn". Victor Orban in a lot of ways is condemned as not as a democrat, as an illiberal leader. At the same time I think we can mostly characterise him and a couple of leaders similar to him as traditionalists. These are essentially the first leaders. I even called the Belarus 1994 elections when Oleksandr Lukashenko won a landslide, as the first traditionalist revolution. Essentially by democratic ways, and democratic meaning, those who are part of the urban and rural divide and those who are claiming traditional values were kind of helping Lukashenko win, who obviously after this dismantled democracy. At the same time, he delivered what the traditionalists wanted - this is a Soviet Republic. In the case of Hungary, this is kind of similar. The Hungarians were having a very turbulent transition, transformation, from perhaps the best form of a communist system, into what proved to be reverse capitalism. A very distorted market, capitalism was bought, the multinationals were bringing way too many profits out and local capitalists were similarly not paying people well, the poverty was the highest, the corruption one of the highest in the region…And this bitterness was leading people to vote for Orban, who was promising this kind of "traditionalist turn," which put Hungary first, a bit of economic nationalism, putting money into the national financial circles and national businesses, supporting state-support. It is very tricky, because not only does the EU not like it, but this is against the EU rules.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Photo credit: Károly Árvai/kormany.hu
Foreign policy is opening towards the East, both when it comes to Russia or Ukraine. But also towards China to make sure that there is a balance in foreign policy relationships. At the same - and it is very important to emphasize when it comes to Hungary and Trump's administration - Hungarians and the Hungarian government value their current membership in the European Union, as well as in NATO. I think that western media analysis and coverage, which is blaming Victor Orban of being against the EU, is a bit overgrown. They are much for the EU where they can secure its borders, and where the EU rules are valid for everyone. Not only for 'big guys’, because when it comes to budget overruns, Germany and France can do it, Hungary and Slovakia can't. And Hungarians are obviously not favoring the austerity, because they had their own bad experience with austerity. So they are not really supporting it, even though they voted for it. And the Hungarian government was not particularly rhetorically favoring the Russian sanctions, for example after the Ukrainian crisis. But at the same time, they never voted against or never intended to do that. So we see that they are trying to shake up the status quo, and at the same time, trying to save from the status quo, those institutions, which both the Hungarian citizens and government still value.
But Victor Orban is the author of the phrase "illiberal democracy", and he is considered to be intellectually wise, and the ally of Vladimir Putin. And that very much corresponds to the way we see Donald Trump today, as someone who can also represent this illiberal agenda, while running a big democracy. How is this seen and discussed? How are the possible US relations to Russia seen in Hungary?
Even Victor Orban names himself as "illiberal, but still democrat". There’s nothing wrong with that. I think it is a bit overblown; it's not against the rules not to be a liberal. There is social democracy, there is Christian democracy. Particularly for the western media, which consider themselves as liberal, it is sometimes outrageous, but certainly unacceptable in a lot of ways. When it comes to Hungary and Russia's special relations, it's much larger than it compares to any other country. The biggest direct foreign investment is going to be the upgrade of Paks, the nuclear power plant, which the Russians built, I mean the Soviets built a long time ago. The Russians are supposed upgrade it. It’s a 10 billion Euro loan as well as a 10 billion Euro contract, which is the biggest in the history of independent Hungary. At the same time, you could see as well that the Hungarian government has been trying to change this relationship, exactly after the Ukrainian crisis. This opening towards the East, which means again not only Russia, but even Ukraine as well, was coming before the Ukrainian crisis. And the Hungarians are trying to change as much as possible the course. There are even voices in Hungary and rumors that the Hungarian government is trying to replace the Russian loan with commercial loans.
Fifty-six tons of aid set off from Budapest bound for Ukraine, November 2016. Photo credit: Károly Árvai/kormany.hu
Putin is coming to visit Hungary again in early February, so I think we will know much more then. But it is interesting to see that the Hungarian government has been upgrading significantly their relationships with Ukraine in the past few months. Volodymyr Groysman, the Prime-Minister of Ukraine just visited Budapest a few weeks ago, Hungary opened a 50 million Euro credit line. They canceled national visas, not the EU visas, but they canceled visa fees for the national visas for Ukrainians. And there is a lot more Hungarian permits, as well as passports given to Ukrainians mostly to Ukrainians from the Hungarian State. I would even characterize that the opening to Putin was before the Ukrainian crisis, and when the Ukrainian crisis happened — the annexation of Crimean and Donbas — then the Hungarians rethought that and were trying to escape as much as possible from these relations. Obviously, that's not that easy, and it's getting very negative coverage in the media for that.
What can be the implications of that towards Trump's administration? A lot of things that Trump is going to do are speculations, and a lot of that depends on who is actually going to run the portfolio in the State Department as well as in the White House and the National Security Council. Because I don't think that Trump himself will run the Ukrainian or the regional policy. I think this region and Ukraine will go down on the priority list, because the first steps of the new president show what is going to be the priority — and it is not necessarily a terrible thing, but it's certainly going to be a big change for the Ukrainian leadership, who have enjoyed a fantastic access to the US President via the Vice President Joe Biden. I said it before — Joe Biden will be very much missed by Kyiv and Ukrainians and those who essentially support Ukraine. The Opposition Block is going to have an unmatched lobbyist in Paul Manafort. It's a big question what role Paul Manafort will play in the new administration or around Trump if at all. At the same time, Trump himself is talking big-time about reducing the impact of lobbyists. So let's see that.
The Opposition Block is going to have an unmatched lobbyist in Paul Manafort. Source: Flickr, Disney | ABC Television Group
I think it will be very important for Ukraine to not only double-down on what we see is increasing the Russian threat towards vis-a-vis the American administration for one single reason, because the Russian threat is pretty much coming from the Democratic side. I don't want to debate whether the Russian threat is real or perceived, but it is certainly getting a big push from the Democrat side. During the first weeks, President Trump is not going to say: "Sorry. Yes, I was elected because of the Russians." So, this is not a good tactic, and it is very important for the Ukrainian leadership to realize that. And instead of the Russians, it is better to focus on the reforms and what the geopolitical role in the region could mean for the United States, because Russia is becoming an important agent for Trump.
All the time in this region, the transformation after the communism was the battle as well as EU integration and the relations with NATO. If you get the funds, you need to respect the rule of law, human rights and all the other agenda from LGBT and other things that are not very popular in the traditional societies. Politicians in Eastern Europe always said that those were the concessions in order to be a part of the European Union or NATO. How do you see all these things with revival of traditionalism? What impact will the change of the U.S. administration have on this agenda?
First of all, I do think that we're going to see a more traditionalist foreign policy — classic if you like. One of the first things we saw right after the inauguration was that certain agendas were disappearing from the White House website — LGBTI, climate change, and those things. This is unfortunately what Donald Trump promised and raised during his campaign, so there is no surprise. The question is are we going to see disappearing agendas from the White House website or will it really go down when it comes to foreign policy and especially in development assistance. I think we're going to see much less of that form the US. At the same time, I do not think we're going to see that much less from the European side. Most of the donors, most of the foreign policy push on the LGBT rights is not coming from the United States, but from the European Union. And I think it will stay.
A big question will be what kind of traditionalist Trump and a still modernist and progressive European Union relationship is going to be. I do not think that the current emotional and a bit hysterical attitude of the Europeans towards Trump is helpful. I hope it is a period where the Europeans are trying to swallow and digest as much as possible President Trump. And the Europeans are going to overcome it very quickly.
Donald Jr. Trump, Photo credit: Reuters
I think we need to take a look at the positive side. I already mentioned Manafort. He knows Ukraine well. If Manafort is going to play any role, Ukraine can utilize this, and not only the opposition block. But Ukraine can utilize Manafort's knowledge and position within Trump's administration to raise the Ukrainian issue higher into the agenda. I think the most important thing is that, at this stage, the United States are still very much divided. And you see the Women’s March, the inauguration — all the reactions. And President Trump's dividedness is going to stay. This is going to be, I think, the most important issue for the Trump administration - how exactly he will be able to deal with the dividedness. Whether the US will export this dividedness on the international relations or foreign policy or we're going to see a clear, normal prioritizing traditional agenda of president Trump and the establishment, who is helping. The establishment is implementing foreign policy. Or we're going to see President Trump's priorities clashing with the intelligence communities, with the foreign policy communities, NGOs, development aid community or not. At this stage we can speculate a lot about that, but the next few weeks will show exactly what kind of president and what kind of foreign policy priorities we can expect from Donald Trump and the United States.