The Corner


Dancing with Putin

Viktor Orbán and Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin on September 18, 2018 (Alexander Zemlianichenko / Reuters)

Today, we publish Part III of my interview with Vladimir Bukovsky, here. The main subject is Nazism and Communism. The Nazis underwent the Nuremberg trials, and Germany underwent denazification. The Soviet Union and its onetime empire underwent … zilch. Czech democrats took a stab at it and failed. This, according to Bukovsky and not a few others, has made a huge difference. In Bukovsky’s opinion, the Soviet system quickly crept back into Russia, and something similar would have happened to Germany, but for Nuremberg and denazification.

Bukovsky has a remarkable phrase: “Everything that comes from Putin has a birthmark on it” — a Soviet birthmark. The Russian leader did not spend those years in the KGB for nothing.

Earlier this week, President Trump hosted Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian leader, at the White House. He and Orbán are natural allies. Trump said, “I know he’s a tough man, but he’s a respected man. Probably, like me, a little bit controversial, but that’s okay. That’s okay.”

Oh, yeah.

While Trump and Orbán are natural allies, it’s less clear that Orbán and the United States are, though Hungary remains in NATO (even as Turkey does). Ties between Orbán and Putin grow ever stronger.

I have written about this many times — here, for example — and so have others, in greater detail.

We, the United States, requested the extradition of two Russian arms dealers, who had plotted to sell weapons to narcos, who were keen to kill our law-enforcement agents. Orbán sent them back to Putin.

Recently, a Hungarian former counterintelligence officer, Ferenc Katrein, was moved to speak to the Voice of America. Like many others, he is alarmed by the alliance between Orbán and Putin. He of course lives abroad now. He said to the VOA,

“All the Russian services — the GRU, FSB, and SVR — are highly active in Hungary and they have free rein. That was my problem. There was no effort to curtail or control them. We are a member of NATO and we have a responsibility to our allies. The question some of us started asking was, ‘Who is our partner, NATO or the Russians?’”

Orbán has invited a Kremlin-controlled bank, the former Comecon, to relocate to Budapest. The “bank” is an obvious espionage center. At the same time, Orbán has chased out Central European University. His fans at home and abroad applaud. There is an “Authoritarian International,” as Eric Edelman says, or a “global movement,” as Nigel Farage and Steve Bannon say.

Last summer, this movement had its perfect pictures, in my opinion: Karin Kneissl, the Austrian foreign minister, dancing with Putin at her wedding, then curtsying to him in her dirndl, looking up at him adoringly.

Meanwhile, Viktor Orbán’s moves are deeply worrying to many a Hungarian patriot, and to democrats everywhere.

With Vladimir Bukovsky, I brought up the issue of illiberalism in Europe — extremists on left and right (and, in reality, there’s hardly a dime’s worth of difference between them). I did not bring up Orbán, but he did.

Bukovsky is an old friend of Orbán’s, like virtually every other veteran anti-Communist. Some of the veterans have turned against Orbán, appalled at what he has become. Others, having a different mindset, cling to him, and always will, no matter what.

An early turner was Mark Palmer, the late, great Reaganite. He was ambassador to Hungary from 1986 to 1990. He was with Orbán in the streets. When he saw what Orbán did with power, he cried foul. This is not what they had fought for — at least not what Palmer et al. had fought for.

Anyway, Bukovsky was friends with Palmer, Orbán, and the whole crowd. This was a band of brothers (and I loved them, from afar).

To me, Bukovsky said that some “get carried away” with their anti-EU and anti-Left feelings. (This is something coming from the author of EUSSR, by the way.) This leads them down dark, illiberal paths. It may lead them into Putin’s arms.

Think of it: people who feel themselves anti-Left, locking arms with the KGB man in the Kremlin.

If Orbán isn’t careful, said Bukovsky, “his country will be swallowed by the KGB, and he won’t even notice how it happened.” And “since he has been my personal friend for many years, I did tell him this.”

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