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Hungary - Foreign Relations

Except for the short-lived neutrality declared by Imre Nagy in November 1956, Hungary's foreign policy generally followed the Soviet lead from 1947 to 1989. During the communist period, Hungary maintained treaties of friendship, cooperation, and mutual assistance with the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic, Romania, and Bulgaria. It was one of the founding members of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact and Comecon, and it was the first central European country to withdraw from those now-defunct organizations.

Hungary was a signatory to the Helsinki Final Act in 1975, has signed all of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE)/ Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) follow-on documents since 1989, and served as the OSCE's Chairman-in-Office in 1997. Hungary's record of implementing CSCE Helsinki Final Act provisions, including those on reunification of divided families, remains among the best in eastern Europe. Hungary has been a member of the United Nations since December 1955.

On balance, the gradual emergence of alternate sources of opinion and expertise in foreign affairs is a positive development that will bring foreign policy closer to the public. This will be a gradual process, and the temptation to use foreign policy as a pawn in domestic politics will continue. Domestic experience remains the key to political prominence in Hungary.

Budapest is often content to follow the EU consensus, and effectively "outsourcing" its policy to the Union was clearly a temptation for a country principally concerned with its internal political issues. Hungary often had little interest in issues where it has no perceived national interest. The presence of Hungarian minorities in the region will continued to prompt a degree of Hungarian activism, though more often rhetorical than practical.

As with any country, Hungarian security attitudes are shaped largely by history and geography. For Hungary, this is a history of more than 400 years of domination by great powers--the Ottomans, the Habsburgs, the Germans during World War II, and the Soviets during the Cold War. Hungary's foreign policy priorities, largely consistent since 1990, represent a direct response to these factors. Since 1990, Hungary's top foreign policy goal has been achieving integration into Western economic and security organizations. To this end, Hungary joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in May of 2004.

Nationalist tendencies in Slovakia and Romania constantly curtailed the rights of their sizable Hungarian minorities. Ironically, in Hungary also nationalist tendencies fueled protests against their neighbors, and extremists demanded the revision of the Trianon treaties. Such ethnic conflicts interfered with the genuine cooperation between the countries.

The right-of-center Hungarian government, elected in 1998 and led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, became a champion in demanding better treatment of ethnic Hungarians abroad. As part of its election campaign, the Alliance of Young Democrats, FlDESZ, called for the rights of ethnic Hungarians to preserve their linguistic and cultural heritage. After winning the election, the Orban-led coalition government proposed legislation to extend special privileges to fellow Hungarians whenever they visit the country or seek employment in Hungary. This policy was received favorably by the majority of Hungarians, and even opposition parties ended up supporting it. Naturally, ethnic political parties and social organizations in neighboring countries hailed the proposed law.

On June 19, 2001, the National Assembly of Hungary passed a "Status Law" or, as it was also known a "Benefit Law," with an overwhelming majority of 92 percent, effective January 1, 2002.' The Status Law granted wide-ranging cultural and social rights to ethnic Hungarians from Slovenia, Croatia, Yugoslavia, Romania, Ukraine, and Slovakia when they visited or sought employment in Hungary. In order to qualify for these benefits persons had to give proof of their Hungarian origin, and they had to obtain a Hungarian identity card.

Hungary has improved its often-chilled neighborly relations by signing basic treaties with Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine. These renounce all outstanding territorial claims and lay the foundation for constructive relations. However, the issue of ethnic Hungarian minority rights in Slovakia and Romania periodically causes bilateral tensions to flare, including in June 2010 when the Parliament offered Hungarian citizenship to ethnic Hungarians living outside its borders.

Hungarian foreign policy once again has only one goal: the representation of Hungarian interests, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Pter Szijjrt said at a press conference in Budapest on 28 January 2017. In every case, Hungarian foreign policy makes its decisions based exclusively on Hungarian interests, the Minister stressed. Subservience in never rewarded, and in the long term it goes to the detriment of the given country, and so, as has been the case so far, this year Hungarian foreign policy will again be directed from Budapest and from Bem Square, and not from anywhere else, he added.




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