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„Hungary could be a bridgehead to EU for the Turkic world”

The Magyar Nemzet is the main daily outlet of Hungary. Founded in 1938, the Magyar Nemzet (Hungarian Nation) is a reference journal for the conservatives of Hungary. The conservative newspaper is close to the current Hungarian government lead by Viktor Orbán.

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This article was published online by the Magyar Nemzet on 8 December 2021.

„Hungary symbolizes a bridgehead to the EU for the Turkic world,” said Dr. János Hóvári Head of the Organization of Turkic States Office in Budapest regarding Hungary’s role in the Central Asian region. We also talked to the former Ambassador of Hungary to Ankara about Hungarian-Turkish relations and the upcoming summit between the Visegrád countries and the Turkic states planned in Budapest for next year, initiated by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

The name of the Turkic Council changed at the last summit. It is called the Organization of Turkic States now, the reason behind the name change: the organization wants to strengthen its role in the international community. What steps do they want to take to reach this goal?

The name change practically means that the intergovernmental cooperation between the Organization of Turkic States (OTS), of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan which started in 2009, want to play an essential role in the international community. Consequently, a new strategy until 2040 was adopted at the last Istanbul summit. The population of the region is 160 million and has a unique economic network between Europe and Asia, and due to their situation, they have increasingly obvious geostrategic and geopolitical interests. Revelations of these interests in the global scene do not just affect the everyday life of the area from Bosphorus to Altai mountains but also shape its future. Hungary has been an observing member of the organization since 2018, so the name change also affects us, which we have accepted.

Geographically, Hungary is quite distant from the Turkic states. How does Hungary profit from the observing membership?

The geographical distance has a different meaning than 100 or 200 years ago. Istanbul is not further from Budapest than Brussels. The region of the Caspian Sea is the distance of Morocco or Egypt. Hungary maintains a close relationship with Turkey.

Our trade has been growing significantly with every member state of the OTS and our trade balance is positive in this region, we export more than we import, our surplus is around 1.5 billion dollars. But it is even more important that Hungarian professionals and businesses have more opportunities to enter this region and contribute to the social and economic innovations. Unique support would come from students who are studying in Hungary.

The Turkish World got familiar with the name of Hungary from the mid 19. century when they sought out relatives from Siberian Turks to Istanbul as we also did a bit earlier. Many of them had already come to Budapest to study and become great scientists: Bekir Szitki Csobánzáde, Hamit Zübeyr Koşay.

Unfortunately, Hungary’s name faded away in many areas of the Turkish world. After the Cold War, we did not do enough to change this.

So, it was time for stronger foreign policy in the region. Obviously not just to solve some of the mysteries of researching our past – but most of all to gain political, economic, and cultural partners and friends in the international community to the east of us, so that Central Europe, of which we are the heart and soul, can be truly ‘central’.

– What connects Hungary to the Turkish peoples? What do they think of us?

In regard to economic interest, we have to maintain a good relationship with the Turkish world. We should take the German or the Czech examples. It would be good to have the volume of trade with Turkic countries that Berlin and Prague do. Turkey is a huge market, and the Central-Asian countries have enormous potential to grow, due to their young population.

The biggest country in the region is Uzbekistan, which just recently ended the planned economy and opened it to foreign investors. In addition, the Turkish peoples see us as relatives: for them, the Hungarians are western, successful people torn apart from their world.

Hungary symbolizes a bridge towards the European Union and needs a stronger and more constructive partnership in this huge region.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán highlighted several times: from a geopolitical point of view, it is important for Budapest to cultivate a friendly, strategic alliance with Ankara in addition to Berlin and Moscow. Why are friendly relations with Turkey important in today’s geopolitical context?

Turkey has become a powerhouse in recent years, stemming from the country’s demographic, economic, and security sway. The aim is to reach 5 billion US dollars in value in trade with Turkey. If the estimates are right, we can come really close to this number by the end of 2021.

The amount of our export and import is expected to be around 4,4 billion USD. Deep economic and financial relations have developed between the Hungarian and Turkish economies in recent years, which hopefully can benefit third country markets. Furthermore, it is no longer a question whether Turkey has a crucial role to stop illegal migration which poses a threat to Hungary. Ankara currently is a very strong stabilizing force in the region in the Middle East.

The Hungarian Prime Minister proposed a summit between V4 Central European countries and members of the Turkic Council at Budapest. Can Hungary be a gateway between these two regions?

The Interests of the V4 countries coincide with each other. The Czechs remained in Central Asia after the Soviet times and started to implement strategic investments in 1990 in Turkey. Poland has very similar relations to Turkey as Hungary does. The Ottoman Empire never really recognized the partition of the Polish Kingdom in the XVIII century. The Polish embassy building in Ankara is so large because the city was considered a refuge by Warsaw between the two world wars – and it officially became one in 1939.

Every big city in Central Asia and Azerbaijan has a Polish community, indicated by the numerous Roman Catholic Churches. The Turkish world is an important and expanding market for the Polish economy. Bratislava’s politics in Turkey are quite active, however their involvement with more distant Turkic countries is limited by the bottleneck of diplomatic pressures in the region. On the whole however, the V4 region as a partner to the Organization of Turkish States is comparable to Germany – even though we can only achieve approximately two-thirds of what our German friends are doing in terms of trade as of now.

Regardless, the planned diplomatic summit in Budapest, the V4 and OTS5 will be a historic and proactive event building up our future.