American-Hungarian relations hit rock bottom

I’m continuing the American theme but this time from the point of view of the Fidesz-controlled Magyar Nemzet. It has been evident for some time that the right-wing media’s attitude toward the United States was moving beyond the critical. It was becoming outright shrill.

Of course, Magyar Nemzet has plenty of ammunition as a result of the Snowden revelations of widespread American spying even in allied countries. In the last few days it came to light that Hungary, like almost all European countries, was a target of American surveillance. Magyar Nemzet is certain that it was the American Embassy’s roof that served as the center of U.S. surveillance activities. After all, one of the articles pointed out, the embassy is only 400 meters from the Hungarian Parliament where Viktor Orbán’s office is located.

Almost every day since the second half of October there has been at least one article dwelling on the moral turpitude of the United States of America, which at one time was “moralistic and childlike.” The change came with the presidency of George W. Bush, who so completely lost touch with reality, the paper opined, that “not even Hollywood could help.” According to Gábor Stier, the author of an op/ed piece, the United States is no better than the Soviet Union. Both only defend their own national interests. The lesson to be learned: Hungarians cannot trust their allies and, instead of dreaming, “we must concentrate on enhancing our own strength.”

Uncle sam

The surveillance scandal in Hungary, about which we know practically nothing, immediately prompted wild speculations in the press room of Magyar Nemzet. Was the information gathered by the Americans used “to influence social processes”? Or perhaps the United States was trying to influence the country’s domestic policies.

The answer came on the same day, November 7, in an unsigned article. The well-informed Magyar Nemzet learned earlier that Máté Kocsis, a member of the parliamentary committee looking into the matter, intimated that American surveillance activities might have been more than information gathering. “They may have aimed at gaining political influence.” Hungarian politicians and the right-wing media specialize in “may have” statements because this way they don’t have to take responsibility for their assertions, but at the same time they can plant the desired thought into readers’ minds.

On the basis of that non-information Magyar Nemzet came out with the following rather wild hypothesis, naturally sticking a question mark to the end of the sentence, “Was the United States working for the left-liberals?” The article claimed that the U.S. Embassy was far too interested in Hungarian domestic policies and “showed an interest in the criminal proceedings launched against former politicians and high civil servants.” For example, the U.S. Embassy asked for statistics on these proceedings from the prosecutor’s office. Well, it would be strange indeed if the staff members of an embassy were not interested in the affairs of the country to which they are accredited. To this end, they monitor the media and ask official channels for information. The American Embassy did nothing wrong when they asked for information on the politically motivated court proceedings.

The American Embassy’s communiqué I quoted yesterday upset the Hungarian right wing and most likely Viktor Orbán himself.  The reporters of Magyar Nemzet simply don’t understand why the U.S. is demanding an explanation from either Viktor Orbán or János Áder when in their opinion the Fidesz government had nothing to do with the unveiling of Miklós Horthy’s statue. It was done by a Hungarian Reformed minister with Jobbik sympathies and was attended by a few Jobbik members of parliament. Their claim is that the Americans addressed the request to the wrong persons.

Moreover, the argument continues, the Hungarian government already answered the charges. Antal Rogán, the leader of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, explained that it was “a provocation” aimed at arousing the international left-wing press to launch yet another attack against Hungary. In addition, János Lázár, undersecretary in charge of the prime minister’s office, said that the Horthy period must be judged by historians and not by politicians. He himself is not sufficiently knowledgeable to decide on the nature of the Hungarian regime between the two world wars. What else do the Americans want?

Levente Sitkei, another editor of Magyar Nemzet, was most upset that the American communiqué called Horthy “a Nazi ally plain and simple.” I don’t know whether he disputes the fact that Horty was an ally of Nazi Germany or whether he challenges the phrase “plain and simple.”  Our man has a devastating opinion of all American ambassadors who have served in Hungary since the change of regime. They were ignorant and among themselves they managed to pile up and pass on such political ballast that it’s no wonder American-Hungarian relations have hit rock bottom. The new “rich and beautiful” Colleen Bell will only add her own to that ballast. I myself used harsh words against the former American ambassadors, but while I criticized them for being ineffective, Sitkei condemns them because they were not more supportive, I guess, of Fidesz.

What advice does Sitkei have for the new American ambassador? She should “look behind the surface.” I guess that means that she should not accept the condemnations of the western media and the prejudices of the State Department but look for the real Hungary. She shouldn’t believe all that talk about extremism and anti-Semitism. Sitkei also hopes that she will be open and will listen to all sides as a good democrat should. In plain language, she should believe the Orbán government’s propaganda. “Or, will she be such an American and such a democrat that an hour before this article is published it will appear in English on Colleen Bell’s smart phone?”

And finally, a few choice sentences from an absolutely devoted Fidesz supporter. I assume he is retired by now, but earlier he was a professor at one of the top universities in the country. He is outraged about the American demand for an explanation of the unveiling of the Horthy statue. He is certain that the communiqué was not composed in Washington but that “one of those no good career diplomats who have been loitering around here for years wrote it who have nothing to do and who get their information exclusively from the communists and liberals.” These no-goods send letters in the name of their government against Hungary! In his opinion an American ambassador should know something about Hungary’s history and it would also be desirable to name someone who “has Hungarian roots.” He is certain that the new ambassador has already been approached by the communists and their friends. Just as the State Department is influenced by “inordinately prejudiced old geezers, like Charlie Gati.” Our professor would be very pleased if his words got to Washington because he is a true friend of the United States. So, I obliged.

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24 comments

  1. That’s very nice. So, may I humbly inquire who this dolt of a professor may be?
    Yes, of course I have some suspicions and numerous candidates, but surprise us anyway. Why so bashful? Isn’t it him who should be embarrassed and not you? Let’s give him his due! He deserves it.
    We deserve it too. Don’t we?

    (Amongst those betting on George Schopflin we are holding a lottery for the first prize.)

  2. Sandor :

    That’s very nice. So, may I humbly inquire who this dolt of a professor may be?
    Yes, of course I have some suspicions and numerous candidates, but surprise us anyway. Why so bashful? Isn’t it him who should be embarrassed and not you? Let’s give him his due! He deserves it.
    We deserve it too. Don’t we?

    (Amongst those betting on George Schopflin we are holding a lottery for the first prize.)

    The idiot’s name is András Fodor. I encountered him the first time almost 15 years ago. He is a first-rate ass.

  3. OT and sorry if this has been mentioned before but I just learned about this somewhat bizarre government campaign to encourage people to stay in Hungary using feel-good videos, like this one:

    The bitter comments beneath it from disillusioned Hungarians are both funny and sad. I’m actually surprised they didn’t disable comments for this video.

    This also reminds me of a curious conversation I overheard between two young Hungarian ladies on a crowded tram in Budapest the other day:

    -“Ugh, I can hardly wait to get back to Manchester.”
    -“Really? Do you love living there so much?”
    -“It’s not bad, but this place is just horrible! I mean, how can you stand living here?”
    -“Oh, I’d love to move to England too. I’m looking into it. What do you do over there?”

    And it went on like that for a while…

    It did occur to me that Girl #1 was possibly just trying to make Girl #2 jealous about her life in England, but still, I guess what surprised me the most was how they were speaking in public so openly and didn’t care what anyone thought.

    I wonder if this is how the majority of young people in Hungary think these days…

  4. On the one hand, Andras Fodor is the nicest man. From an amazing family.
    Unfortunately, too many sirens are singing the anti-communism songs into his ear, until his brain became deaf to all other songs.

    The unfortunate Andras Fodors are so happy to have found their anti-commie family that Orbani gangsterism is not apparent to them.

    Where are the masses of sane Hungarians to dump the Hungarian orbans, with the horthys, etc?

    Are the words of the Baloghs, Bitos, Fazekas a cry into the wilderness?

  5. Politics needs enemies. Surely Orbán needs the EU (the new Moscow), the US (home of the interventionist liberals, ie. Jews, and of destructive capitalism). Having said that, the US similarly needs “the Terrorists”, the “Al Queda”, the “Pedohiles” and others to justify and maintain total surveillance and spending of hundreds of billions of USD (thousands over the last decade) on the military. It’s business and politics as usual. Same for Orbán. Positive feelings unfortunately cannot move people, but inherently diffuse fear (anxiety) and hatred can, so politics will make use of those (in some places helped by lobbysts, like the “death-panel” advertisements).

  6. “Magyar Nemzet is certain that it was the American Embassy’s roof that served as the center of U.S. surveillance activities. After all, one of the articles pointed out, the embassy is only 400 meters from the Hungarian Parliament where Viktor Orbán’s office is located.”

    Is the Magyar Nemzet not aware of *recent* technological developments which mean that surveillance does not depend on distance from target?

  7. Can anyone find the link to the complete original Nov 3rd (or so) US Sate department communiqué transcript regarding the Horthy Statue? I have googled for it but to no avail.

    I remember my suprise and shock as to how “szájbarágo” – succinct and instructive it seemed to me.

    Considering Orbán’s character I am not sure that approach is the smartest if this was a step the US really wanted to see Hungary take…It seemed entirely unwise, aggressive to the point of meddling in internal affairs. So I’d like to re-read it.

    I agree with the premise of disaccociating the government or tolerance of that opinion though the method seemed to be rather inappropriate. I need to see it again. I think we will come back to this sad issue again in the future… Hungary’s Orban not likely to accept instructions from the USA.

  8. “Hungary’s Orban not likely to accept instructions from the USA.”
    That shouldn’t come as a surprise – Orbán also doen’t want to be a colony of the EU and doesn’t accept the International Courts’ rulings – he just wants the USA’s and the EU’s money – and of course he’d like money from Russia, China, Arab countries – you name it …

    Actually I had the feeling that someone in Fidesz realised that antagonising the USA was not a really good idea and they kind of back pedalled regarding Horthy. I still wonder what they pay those PR companies in London and Washington for ? Or don’t they accept their advice now ?

  9. I have read the remarks #6 of Tokayer, and #5 of Eva.
    The remarks left a deep impression in me.
    The message #6 was so cold. So sophisticated, but a little bit too twisted.
    The aggressive leaders, like most people, who committed crimes, and stand in front of a judge, were probably abused by life in their past. The Orbans, as adults, are ready to oppress foes and friends.
    The Orbans can be nice and cruel alternatingly like many bipolar people.
    The same can be true for Andras Fodor. He, too, can be a very nice and loving man around his friends and family all the times, mixed with his constant ugly bigoted attacks on the other side.
    He may be a product of many abuses, like unfortunately, many of us, who grew up in Hungary.

  10. let us be nice :
    I have read the remarks #6 of Tokayer, and #5 of Eva.
    The remarks left a deep impression in me.
    The message #6 was so cold. So sophisticated, but a little bit too twisted.
    The aggressive leaders, like most people, who committed crimes, and stand in front of a judge, were probably abused by life in their past. The Orbans, as adults, are ready to oppress foes and friends.
    The Orbans can be nice and cruel alternatingly like many bipolar people.
    The same can be true for Andras Fodor. He, too, can be a very nice and loving man around his friends and family all the times, mixed with his constant ugly bigoted attacks on the other side.
    He may be a product of many abuses, like unfortunately, many of us, who grew up in Hungary.

    let us be nice :
    I have read the remarks #6 of Tokayer, and #5 of Eva.
    The remarks left a deep impression in me.
    The message #6 was so cold. So sophisticated, but a little bit too twisted.
    The aggressive leaders, like most people, who committed crimes, and stand in front of a judge, were probably abused by life in their past. The Orbans, as adults, are ready to oppress foes and friends.
    The Orbans can be nice and cruel alternatingly like many bipolar people.
    The same can be true for Andras Fodor. He, too, can be a very nice and loving man around his friends and family all the times, mixed with his constant ugly bigoted attacks on the other side.
    He may be a product of many abuses, like unfortunately, many of us, who grew up in Hungary.

    Abuse in early life or bipolarity excuses monster behaviour?

  11. Eva S. Balogh :

    The idiot’s name is András Fodor. I encountered him the first time almost 15 years ago. He is a first-rate ass.

    Well, just the best is good enough as we’ve learned the other day, directly from His Highness, Viktor Orbán, when he was styled as a two-third(!) lumberjack while inaugurating the tourist hostel in Pilisszentkereszt.
    In this case again the “first rate” is what we just must have, you know.

    After all, we must show “them” that Hungary performs better, mustn’t we?

  12. Thank you Eva for providing the link to the text of the US Statement. (Comment No. 11).

    I re-read it. In principle I agree with the logic of the statement and also with your assesment that the contact has apparently gotten to an abysmally low level between the two countries. Perhaps direct messages from the US Government are not getting in front of Orban or more likely the US was publicly expressing its displeasure that Orban was not actively opposing the Horthy Statue or not taking Horthy’s significance with the same negative attitude it (the US) is using…

    The US may in fact be additionally irked since this church is also located on Sabadság Tér as is the Embassy. Additionally the Embassy is certainly sensitive to the fact that the Hungarian Statue to remember the Soviet army’s liberation of Hungary at the end of WWII is also located in the middle of the park and the Ambassador’s office looks right onto it. Consequently its likely that the US feels it as a snub – which, knowing Orban’s attitudes, fits into his approach as a welcome opportunity to snub the USA any way he can muster… (Fly bites the elephant…).

    Orbans earlier attempts at stinging the US were via the choice of the Swedish Grippen aircraft as opposed to the US made jets… and am sure there were numerous other, less symbolic instances.

    So I think the US statement is just a public expression to publicly distance itself from the Orban-Fidesz overall attitudes. I guess this is to be expected since Orban is really behaving very antagonistically to the Western powers.

  13. To Andy, I think that Orbán does get the direct messages from the United States. He purposely snubs the Americans. In 2012 the American ambassador asked for an audience. For four months he was too busy to see her!

  14. andy “from Orban’s Cold War…” :
    Orbans earlier attempts at stinging the US were via the choice of the Swedish Grippen aircraft as opposed to the US made jets… and am sure there were numerous other, less symbolic instances.

    Actually it has nothing to do with the Gripens not being American made and all – Orbán simply picked the juicier fruit that time.
    And juices were flowing and palms became lubricated quite nicely – that’s what happens with all those fruits in a few hands, you know…

  15. andy “from Orban’s Cold War…” :
    Thank you Eva for providing the link to the text of the US Statement. (Comment No. 11).
    I re-read it. In principle I agree with the logic of the statement and also with your assesment that the contact has apparently gotten to an abysmally low level between the two countries. Perhaps direct messages from the US Government are not getting in front of Orban or more likely the US was publicly expressing its displeasure that Orban was not actively opposing the Horthy Statue or not taking Horthy’s significance with the same negative attitude it (the US) is using…
    The US may in fact be additionally irked since this church is also located on Sabadság Tér as is the Embassy. Additionally the Embassy is certainly sensitive to the fact that the Hungarian Statue to remember the Soviet army’s liberation of Hungary at the end of WWII is also located in the middle of the park and the Ambassador’s office looks right onto it. Consequently its likely that the US feels it as a snub – which, knowing Orban’s attitudes, fits into his approach as a welcome opportunity to snub the USA any way he can muster… (Fly bites the elephant…).
    Orbans earlier attempts at stinging the US were via the choice of the Swedish Grippen aircraft as opposed to the US made jets… and am sure there were numerous other, less symbolic instances.
    So I think the US statement is just a public expression to publicly distance itself from the Orban-Fidesz overall attitudes. I guess this is to be expected since Orban is really behaving very antagonistically to the Western powers.

    By now, people should know that absolutely nothing happens in the country without Orban’s approval–tacit or otherwise. People should dust off their memory cells and remember the sissy-fit Orban threw over the question of appointint some theatre head back three years ago. Since then, the peons have learnt their lessons–you ask first and act on the ‘gracious leader’s’ rise or fall of a his thumb on EVERY DECISION. So, when the happy-go-lucky motorcyclists go parading with signs of “GIVE GAZ”, one can be sure that they had the great O’s approval…simply for him to show his powers and nix it! Shrewd Felcsutian!

  16. buddy :
    OT and sorry if this has been mentioned before but I just learned about this somewhat bizarre government campaign to encourage people to stay in Hungary using feel-good videos, like this one:

    The bitter comments beneath it from disillusioned Hungarians are both funny and sad. I’m actually surprised they didn’t disable comments for this video.
    This also reminds me of a curious conversation I overheard between two young Hungarian ladies on a crowded tram in Budapest the other day:
    -”Ugh, I can hardly wait to get back to Manchester.”
    -”Really? Do you love living there so much?”
    -”It’s not bad, but this place is just horrible! I mean, how can you stand living here?”
    -”Oh, I’d love to move to England too. I’m looking into it. What do you do over there?”
    And it went on like that for a while…
    It did occur to me that Girl #1 was possibly just trying to make Girl #2 jealous about her life in England, but still, I guess what surprised me the most was how they were speaking in public so openly and didn’t care what anyone thought.
    I wonder if this is how the majority of young people in Hungary think these days…

    that video is priceless. “why go abroad and make money when you can stay at home and get drunk!”

    a++ first class fighting brain drain

  17. Eva, I’ve been reading up on the Hungary Initiatives Foundation, thinking I might apply for one of their grants: http://www.hungaryfoundation.org. I see that its director may be a lobbyist for the Hungarian government: http://www.politics.hu/20131108/exclusive-former-hungarian-minister-becomes-head-govt-lobbyist-in-washington-despite-position-at-independent-us-non-profit/

    I’ve studied American philanthropy for some years, and wonder if it’s common in Hungary for nonprofit executives to hold lobbyist positions on top of their nonprofit jobs. I note that the foundation asserts that its board members “are personally and financially independent of the Hungarian Government”.

    Also, I wonder if you plan to review the new book on the prime minister, Hajra Magyarok. I gather it is selling well in Hungary, and I wonder how insightful and balanced you find it to be–people have such strong feelings about the man, one way or the other.

    I really appreciate your daily analyses of Hungarian life. They take a lot of work, and they are full of insight and information. Thanks much for this dedication.

    Best, Jon

    Jon Van Til, Professor Emeritus, Rutgers University

  18. I don’t know who Andras Fodor is, nor have I ever had any dealings with him but he certainly appears to be a leftist or worse, an Obama ass kisser. The entire article is ‘offense being the best defense’. The US was plenty vocal against Hungary when it had no cause to be. Why can’t Hungary be vocal when it has a reason?

    No need to criticize, fix the problem. Get rid of Islam and a communist president and America will be looked at favorably once again.

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