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Orban to Host Turkish and Serbian Presidents on Hungary’s National Day

When Recep Tayyip Erdogan lands in Budapest on August 20, Hungarians will be celebrating the founding of their Christian state. Odd timing for the visit of an avowed Islamist politician, say observers.

The foreign visit of the Turkish president, his first since being re-elected in May, was announced earlier this week and caught most of the Hungarian political elite by surprise: August 20 is a key Hungarian national holiday, commemorating the country’s first Christian king Stephen I, whose coronation in 1001 marked Hungary’s entry into the family of European Christian nations.

Each year on this date, street festivals and cultural events are crowned with a huge firework display in the evening, one of the biggest in Europe, in a tradition that dates back to Communist times, but which has since developed into a grand – and increasingly pricy – wheeze by the nationalist-conservative Fidesz government of Viktor Orban. August 20 also marks the end of the holiday season, when Hungarians – politicians included – return to business. As such, it is very rare for foreign dignitaries to visit on this particular day.

Yet it’s not only the timing but the relative secrecy surrounding the visit which confuses political experts. The prime minister’s press secretary emailed BIRN to say that “no press events are planned”, indicating only that the topics on the agenda will include “security, the defence industry, and economic issues”.

Likewise, reports on Erdogan’s visit to Hungary in pro-government dailies have been sparse, with the Turkiye daily saying the visit is a gesture of support for Orban.

On Friday, another regional Orban ally, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, also announced he will be visiting Budapest at the same time and will meet with Erdogan when there. Topics under discussion there will no doubt include Kosovo, to where Turkey sent troops at the request of NATO in June to help quell violent clashes with ethnic Serbs that had left 30 international soldiers – 11 Italians and 19 Hungarians – injured.

“It is important for us to maintain contact, not only contact but to try to have the best possible relations with Turkey,” Vucic said. “Turkey is a regional superpower and I believe that the talks in Budapest – and a separate meeting has been confirmed, so a bilateral meeting with Recep Tayyip Erdogan – will be a step in improving our relations.”

Sweden’s NATO bid

“Erdogan and Orban will definitely coordinate their positions concerning Sweden’s NATO accession,” Istvan Szent-Ivanyi, a foreign policy expert and former state secretary, tells BIRN.

Sweden’s bid to join the military alliance is still pending ratification by the Hungarian and Turkish parliaments, both of which are expected to do so in the autumn after Erdogan suddenly, with some US diplomatic prompting, agreed to its accession during the NATO summit in July.

Yet while Ankara had clear demands to make of Stockholm before agreeing to ratify its membership, Hungary’s government only seemed concerned with what it regarded as unfriendly statements that Swedish politicians had made about the state of its rule of law and democratic backsliding, without making any specific requests.

Hungarian governing politicians, who up until then had furiously denied the government was meekly following Erdogan’s lead, quickly gave up any resistance and promised fast ratification. Since then, however, nothing has happened, except for Fidesz politicians refusing to bow to an opposition timetable by not turning up to a parliamentary session called by these parties on July 31 to vote on the ratification.

Some say Erdogan, who has not visited any EU country since his re-election in May, would like to thank Orban for backing him in NATO. Yet others suspect there are business deals going on in the background.

Deals and jams

Szent-Ivanyi points out that the Turkish oligarch Adnan Polat is increasing consolidating his position in the Hungarian economy by investing in major solar energy projects. Polat is seen as the major figure pulling the strings of Hungarian-Turkish relations, becoming notorious in Hungary after engaging in some murky business deals with Orban’s son-in law.

There is also speculation about intensified cooperation in the military-industrial complex, with the possibility of Hungary acquiring drones from Turkey. “The defence sector is one of the most untransparent sectors, and there is a high risk of corruption here,” Szent-Ivanyi adds.

Investigative news site Atlatszo revealed last year that the Hungarian army had purchased Turkish-made Gidran armoured vehicles through an intermediary co-owned by the government-chummy businessman Laszlo Szijj and the Turkish oligarch Suat Karaus. The price of the military vehicles has been classified for 30 years, but Atlatszo calculated the intermediary paid around 1 million euro for each vehicle, potentially twice as much as it would cost on the world market.

Hungarian Defence Minister Kristof Szalay-Bobrovniczky also signed a memorandum of understanding in Ankara last October about extending “future military cooperation”. Perhaps, say observers, the details of this could be worked out during the Orban-Erdogan meeting.

For Budapestians, one thing is sure: a traffic nightmare awaits locals this holiday weekend. The last time Erdogan met Orban in Budapest in 2019, half of the city was locked down, causing huge traffic jams and costing the hard-pressed taxpayer some 175 million forints (half a million euros).

Ahead of this weekend, parts of the city are already closed due to street festivals and preparations for the firework display, while Budapest is swamped with foreign tourists arriving for the World Athletics Championship, the opening ceremony for which will take place Saturday evening and will be attended by Vucic.

Source : Balkan Insight