Interview with András Kosztur, historian and lead researcher for the XXI. Század Intézet („XXIst century institute”), on the recent debates around the Eastward opening policy of the Hungarian government: „It’s not in Hungary’s interest to partake in Cold War hysterics”.
András Kosztur is a political researcher at the XXIst Century Institute in Budapest, a political research institute close to the Hungarian government and well known for its numerous publications, polls and conferences covering various social and current political topics. Hungarian analyst from Ukraine, András Kosztur, is specialised in the study of post-soviet countries and is closely following the Eastern opening policy.
Yann Caspar asked him about the Hungarian policy regarding Eastern partners – mainly Russia and China – and also about Hungary’s position in a world of bloc politics.
Yann Caspar: One of China’s elite universities, Fudan University, plans to open its first European campus in Hungary in 2024; the Chinese President Xi Jinping highlighted and welcomed this initiative. While the Hungarian opposition assumes the project carries a threat to national security, the government says this project could be one of the fruits of the successful “Eastern Opening Policy”. What do you think, why is Hungary the first chosen destination for such an institution within the European Union?
András Kosztur: If we observe the Central European region, it is visible that other countries also don’t reject economic relations with Eastern powers, but they try to keep distance from projects which could be characterized with symbolic or geopolitical content. Many leaders from the region follow the traditional anti-Russian approach, partly because of conformism and they slavishly seek to follow the American geopolitical guidelines, and sometimes get involved in turbulent diplomatic conflicts.
Hence Hungary can be considered a stable, more reliable partner for China than other countries in the region because of its moderate politics, and bilateral cooperation based on mutual interest.
Not to mention the stable internal political situation which makes it impossible for projects to get shut down halfway through because of a coalition crisis, or for domestic political aims.
Yann Caspar: According to the government, the Eastern Opening policy is successful. However, the trade results with non-EU countries haven’t changed significantly, and compared to the European average, Hungary is lagging behind in this sense. Besides that, foreign direct investment from Asia is growing and has a positive effect on job creation, but we also have to mention that the Orbán government wasn’t the first who started this process. Many projects are rooted in the era before 2010 when Péter Medgyessy showed an increasing interest in China, three to four years earlier than other countries in the region. Perhaps the difference is that the Orbán government openly proclaims the Eastern Opening policy and considers it a foreign policy feature. What could be the reason for this?
András Kosztur: Coming back to my previous point, the current Hungarian government is seeking mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation with every country, when it is possible and useful. The economic importance of the Eastern powers is growing, and most of the Western countries have strong economic connections with them. From this viewpoint, rejecting the Eastern opening would be a strange, noticeable, alternative approach. The Eastern Opening can be seen as a curiosity in the context of the end an era of trying to catch up economically or in terms of ‘well-being’ indicators with the Western countries being the only aim, but adapting values and politics were also programmed.
Directly proclaiming the Eastern Opening, declaring it as a value system, thus, in fact, is one of the elements of confronting the Western phenomenon that Viktor Orbán later called “moral imperialism” politics.
Yann Caspar: It is quite hard to imagine that the Hungarian government would take any serious steps that run counter to NATO and American policies. However, there is some novelty in regard to Washington-Berlin relations, caused by several reasons, that it is not as idealistic as before. What do you think of the theory that says Hungary is not alone on the road to Eastern Opening, but serves German commercial and political interests, of course taking into account its own economic well-being, given the fact that Hungary is addicted to German investments? Even Germany wouldn’t admit that openly.