Colleen Bell, US ambassador designate to Hungary, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Let’s move from Budapest to Washington today. On September 26, 2013 I wrote about the likelihood that the next ambassador to Hungary will a political appointee, Colleen Bell, producer of the TV soap “The Bold and the Beautiful.”

At the time I expressed my dismay over the appointment. Not because I had anything against Ms Bell but because I consider the political situation so serious in Hungary that I think it would behoove US interests to have a career diplomat with some knowledge of the region and experience in diplomacy representing the American government on the spot.

Political appointees come from the ranks of those well-heeled people who not only give generously to the political party in power but also solicit large donations from others. Colleen Bell was apparently the source of about a million dollars to the Obama campaigns. Currently there are 32 ambassadorial candidates waiting to be confirmed by the Senate, out of whom 18 are political appointees. The Senate is in no great hurry; the candidates have been on hold for about four months.

Colleen Bradley Bell at the Senate Confirmation Hearing on January 16, 2014

Colleen Bradley Bell at the Senate Confirmation Hearing on January 16, 2014

On January 16 Colleen Bell appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Normally she is quite a fashion plate, but for the occasion she dressed more like a nun, all in black with a small white collar. Obviously, she wanted to be very professional looking. Beside her were two other candidates: Robert C. Barber, a lawyer who is heading to Iceland, and George Tsunis, a Long Island businessman who is going to be sent to Norway.

Each candidate delivered a statement, which started with the usual niceties about the trust President Obama and Secretary Kerry placed in them and with thanks for the support of their families. Bell, after relating the close partnership of the two countries in military matters and their common interest in security as NATO allies, came to the important part of American concerns. Let me quote the relevant passages verbatim:

At the same time, we have been open over the last two years about our concerns about the state of checks and balances in Hungary and the independence of some key institutions. Many argue that sweeping legislative and constitutional changes have hurt the international investment climate, undermined property rights, weakened the judiciary, and centralized power in the hands of the executive.
The United States has not been alone in this regard. The perceived erosion of
democratic checks and balances has garnered scrutiny from various bodies within
the European Union. If confirmed, I will work tirelessly to uphold American and
European democratic values, to express our concerns where appropriate, and to
urge our Hungarian partners to work collaboratively with international partners and
civil society on these issues.

The idea of pluralism is integral to our understanding of what it means to be
a democracy. Democracies recognize that no one entity — no state, no political
party, no leader — will ever have all the answers to the challenges we face. And,
depending on their circumstances and traditions, people need the latitude to work
toward and select their own solutions. Our democracies do not and should not look
the same. Governments by the people, for the people, and of the people will reflect
the people they represent. But we all recognize the reality and importance of these
differences. Pluralism flows from these differences.

The United States has also expressed concern about the rise of extremism
which unfortunately is a trend not unique to Hungary. However, the rise in
Hungary of extremist parties is of particular concern. If confirmed, protecting and
promoting a climate of tolerance will be one of my key priorities.

The Hungarian government has undertaken a series of steps to address
lingering hatred and the legacy of the Holocaust, to include planned events in 2014
to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the large scale deportations to Auschwitz,
and the 2015 assumption of the Presidency of the International Holocaust
Remembrance Alliance. If confirmed, I look forward to working with government
organizations, civic and religious groups, and other stakeholders to confront and
defeat prejudice and hatred in all of its forms.

After delivering the statements, the senators asked a few questions. The Democrats gentle and helpful ones. George Tsunis, who was perhaps the weakest of the three, managed to fumble even on the helpful question of one of the Democratic senators. There were two interesting exchanges relating to the confirmation hearing of Ms Bell. One was a fatherly warning by Senator Ben Cardin (D), co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission, who is very well informed on the latest developments in Budapest. He warned Bell that her stay in Budapest is not going to be a picnic. She has to prepare herself to use tough language. She shouldn’t be misled by promises given to her by government officials because they are in the habit of saying one thing at home and another thing when they talk with foreigners. “You have the responsibility to take a very strong role.” Cardin encouraged Bell to keep in touch with Congress and take advice from them if necessary.

Then came a few very uncomfortable moments when John McCain (R) took over, who certainly wasn’t as nice as his Democratic colleagues. McCain wanted specifics. Bell talked about opportunities for closer cooperation but what kind of cooperation did she have in mind? Bell was unable to expand on or add anything to what was in her written statement.  McCain was not satisfied and, after mentioning that Bell’s predecessor had a very hard time with the Hungarian government, asked her what she would do differently. Unfortunately Bell had no answer to this question. And then came the final blow. McCain wanted to know what the strategic interest of the United States is in Hungary? It looked as if Ms Bell didn’t even understand the question.

Colleen Bell graduated with high honors from Sweet Briar College, majoring in political science and economics, and spent a year at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Presumably she’s not stupid. So, the only thing I can think of is that she was not well prepared by the State Department. One had the feeling that the only thing she knows about Hungarian politics is what is in her written statement. But she had 123 days to prepare for this hearing and her future duties as ambassador to Hungary. She didn’t seem to have been a diligent student.

Ms Bell’s performance wasn’t the worst of the three, but there is no question that her post is the most difficult one. Norway and Ireland are democratic countries where the ambassador’s job will be a great deal less stressful than that of the US ambassador to Hungary. Let’s hope that Ms Bell will learn fast and will be able to be tough as Senator Cardin suggested. Because this is the only way with Viktor Orbán.

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68 comments

  1. @Andrea: Io non parla Italiano ma es molto longi per audiencia non-Italiano… Qualte-costa naturale dentifizzia, con huomi, dentra sole, moi, sien qua no justo di confrera di Paulo di fintissimo enduro pagani qualque che cosa. Per favore poi contra alle diritte di quindici ora per justicica poi intero panqua non Euro. Vola federe quanto punto mai nova per justo il frontera di Vicenza. Mieios salutationes per tutti il familia dunque come si come ca.

  2. “But the planned memorial places all responsibility solely with the Germans and the German army’s “Arrow Cross subordinates.” In truth, the Arrow Cross had nothing to do with the mass deportations which took place in the summer of 1944.”

    As far as I know the memorial has nothing to do with the Arrow Cross, it does not have an Arrow Cross on it anywhere. This is just my current knowledge BUT IF this is true, this explains the absence of Gerő and others.

    They do not want to sign a statement that may turn out to be completely false.

  3. Historians’ protest German version:

    “Historiker protestieren gegen das Denkmal “Die deutsche Besatzung Ungarns am 19. März 1944″

    Wir protestieren gegen die kürzlich bekannt gewordenen Pläne des Denkmals der deutschen Besatzung!

    Das Denkmal verfälscht einen wichtigen Abschnitt unserer Geschichte und relativiert die Ereignisse des Holocaust. Laut Beschreibung sollte das Denkmal »in Erinnerung an alle Opfer« entstehen. Da das Denkmal jedoch auf Geschichtsfälschung beruht, kann es seine Aufgabe nicht erfüllen. Damit, dass es die Opfer des Holocaust und dessen Mittäter in gleicher Weise als Opfer darstellt, schändet das Denkmal das Gedenken an die Opfer.

    Der ungarische Holocaust geschah unter aktiver Mitwirkung der ungarischen Behörden. Das Denkmal schiebt jedoch die historische Verantwortung ausschließlich den Deutschen und den »Pfeilkreuzler-Küken« der deutschen Armee in die Schuhe. In Wahrheit spielten die Pfeilkreuzler bei den Deportationen des Sommers 1944 keinerlei Rolle. Wir, die unterzeichnenden Historiker, fordern die Regierung auf, mit der Verfälschung unserer jüngeren Vergangenheit und der Relativierung der Geschichte des Holocaust aufzuhören, und von der Verwirklichung des Denkmals auf dem Freiheitsplatz abzusehen.”

  4. Bertalan :
    Mr. Orban said that the German occupation memorial will be built. Amen to that.
    District V already issued the building license. What can we do? I mean it is now, after all, a licensed building structure.
    The rule of law dictates that if it is legal then there can be no problem with the construction. I hope you all agree. Do we or do we not want to live in a country defined by the rule of law? I can only hope that our political adversaries will understand it too that we are building a country based on the utmost respect of the rule of law here.
    So the memorial has to be built, the official paper says it. The local municipality in accordance with the rules on local democracy so resolved. The central government must respect that. I am sure our Americans friends will understand that as even the federal government is not omnipotent vis-a-vis the states. Is that not so?
    So now that it has the official stamp on it, there is nothing we can do now. Sorry. The project will go ahead.
    Also, the am I not right in saying that the Jews should finally stop whining and support a noble cause? I mean would it be so hard for them to do so just once?
    The losses of Hungary in 1944 were just too big for the Jews to appropriate this issue again.
    The soul of the nation must heal.
    It is high time for that.
    The memorial will accomplish this goal and let it forever serve as a place where ordinary Hungarians can come to in order to pay their respects and quietly contemplate important historical issues.

    A few notes to your attention, just to refresh and provide chance to rephrase:
    “The rule of law dictates that if it is legal then there can be no problem with the construction. I hope you all agree. Do we or do we not want to live in a country defined by the rule of law?
    – Read the Antigone by Sophocles, (the one by Euripides different in this respect too) and you may have a chance to grasp the difference between legally approved and right.
    As a teaser: the law only right if it isn’t against one’s moral principles.
    You will find it expressed in more archaic way, like it is more important to follow divine truth – the rights and wrongs of the heart than the law of man, but the message is clear.

    Wrong things remains wrong, even if made to law, period.

    So now that it has the official stamp on it, there is nothing we can do now. Sorry. The project will go ahead.

    – Yes, we can do a lot about it. Just imagine a scene, when thousands of protester has to be pushed away in order to build a shameful – and utterly kitschy – memorial, just how good it will look on the CNN!

    Also, the am I not right in saying that the Jews should finally stop whining and support a noble cause? I mean would it be so hard for them to do so just once?
    The losses of Hungary in 1944 were just too big for the Jews to appropriate this issue again.
    The soul of the nation must heal.
    It is high time for that.

    – This is the most interesting part. Just what “noble case” it could be, dear Bertalan that (even) the Jews should support? Would you care to elaborate on this little more?
    So far I see a red herring dropped by Orbán right before the election in order to throw a chunk to chew on to the Jobbik supporters, while at the same time disguise the whole crap as a Homage to the victims.
    Not to mention the “losses of Hungary”, what mostly they called upon themselves. Remember: Hungary willingly attacked the Soviets, went – who knows, why (to “defend” Hungary? There? Come on!) to the Don, remained the last faithful ally of Adolf H, – and later was shocked, that retaliations came. (Wake up, Little Sussie, wake up..)

    Otherwise the soul of the nation was quite well, thank you, as long as a megalomaniac lunatic came around – the name Orbán, in case you wondering – and tore open the wounds once again, to play with – and with your sentiments – at will.

    Indeed, time to wake up dear Bertalan, and realise, that the whole thing has nothing to do with the national interest, nothing at all with honouring the victims, the whole multi-million kitsch going to be built in order to ensure that Orbán will be the almighty ruler at least four more years.

    And you, dear Bertalan, nothing but a gullible pansy in this game.

    Have a nice day!

  5. Bertalan: 6 million jews were exterminated with the rule of law. Countries and their people were annexed and/or expulsed, exiled, killed with the rule of law. Please don’t tax OUR intelligence with such a primitive excuse.
    Just for you, perhaps it helps; Just because something becomes a law, written by a dictator or a party and voted in with majority, it does not mean, that is is right, that it cannot be thrown out, changed or it is permissible and to be kept.

  6. wolfi :
    I just read again the comment by Bertalan – are you sure it’s not meant as satire?

    Yes I do.
    Sounds pretty much as a mislead believer to me.
    Otherwise I prone to recognise another likeminded sarcastic soul, but my sensors remained silent this time.
    I guess, we’ve got a sample of the mindset of the honest supporters of Fidesz, who actually takes it all on face value, never asking why?
    To me it represents the whole trick: sounds national, sounds very Hungarian, call for the core values and so on, and while you’re busy to “defend the Nation” – and we trying to explain, what’s really wrong with this picture – they rob you dry.

    And the whole scheme is one well thought out communications stunt, nothing else, nothing more sophisticated but it used expertly and utilised to the greatest extent.

  7. It is an insult to the nation to send a stupid prostitute as an ambassador to Hungary

    Bell was unable to expand on or add anything to what was in her written statement. Unfortunately Bell had no answer to any question. And then came the final blow. McCain wanted to know what the strategic interest of the United States is in Hungary?
    It looked as if Ms Bell didn’t even understand the question.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Presumably she’s not stupid????. So, the only thing I can think of is that she was not well prepared by the foreign controlled State Department.

    One had the feeling That the only thing she knows about Hungarian politics is what is in her written statement. But she had 123 days to prepare for this hearing and her future duties as ambassador to Hungary.

  8. k kehrer :

    It is an insult to the nation to send a stupid prostitute as an ambassador to Hungary

    Wait a moment. You are new here and therefore you may not know that we don’t use language like this here. Ms Bell might be not too well informed but she is a respectable woman with four children from the same husband whom she met in high school. I hope understand that this is not one of those forums where anything goes. We do have high standards here.

  9. k kehret: You are a base, vile and uncouth person to call someone, who you don’t know anything about a “prostitute”. Get the hell out of here, you are not qualified to discuss anything when you attack a person without any facts and proofs. She is NOT on trial here, or anywhere, it is the qualifications and knowledge one can address, which you have absolutely NONE, being a total nincompoop.

  10. Dear Ms. Balogh. Your blog is an excellent and high quality forum to learn about the daily politics in Hungary and related issues. In my opinion, there is no room here for uncivilized people, who attach anyone, especially without knowledge about the person and accusing someone of anything without proof. We discuss and debate opinions and it would be nice to keep it that way. Those, who cause and attack people and not their opinion only, should post on kuruc.info, Magyar Nemzet, Magyar Hírlap or watch Echo TV and Szaniszló Ferenc.

  11. @gybognarjr, not too much OT:

    Not only on those sites you mentioned, even on politics.hu their is a flood of abominable statements by people who call themselves Hungarians on others they obviously hate. It used to be a kind of shock to me – now I’m accustomed to it but I still find it very strange that some (many?) Hungarians seem to believe that all other nations are inferior to them.

  12. Wolfi 1-23-14 (#13)
    First I apologize for misspelling “attack”, a stupid mistake. I try to expand on my view.
    There are many people in the world, who live in the false belief, that their culture, their nationality, “God Forbid”, their race is superior to others. It comes from brainwash, from biased education and memories of wrongdoings by others, which they cannot forgive, but forget their own wrongdoings to others and a falsified history, thought to them. Altogether, this can makes them prejudiced, with a lack of intelligence and respect for equality.
    You are correct, it seems, that today there are more than the average number of such prejudiced, chauvinistic and unintelligent people in Hungary. Unfortunately, the Government leads the way, which is made up of lifelong criminals, who were all classmates, some of them from high school and formed a political party made of a band of close-nit thieves, with the purpose of gaining and keeping the power at all price. It is logical, that in times, when the Government is a band of vile, base, lying thieves, that the segment of the population, which is similar to them, lacking the proper education and intelligence, becomes the voice most ofter herd and favored. “Every nation has the government which it is fit for.” (“Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite.”- Joseph de Maistre 1753-1821)

  13. Dear, Gyula, I still don’t understand it – especially since my wife is a very liberal in the best sense) Hungarian woman – and she spent more than 40 years of her life behind the Iron Curtain!

    A bit OT:

    Even today, after we’ve been together more than seven years, she sometimes amazes me with stories from those Kádár years – and the years after 1989.

    Did Hungary really not manage to get over those bad times? We Germans use the word “Vergangenheits-Bewältigung” for that – Nazi times and WW2 also took longer …

  14. Dear Wolfi:
    I am sure your wife can expand and give you very thorough explanations with illustrations of the culture and the way of general thinking in Hungary. I cannot do well, for the lack of time and space here. Books can be written on the subject.
    ONE VERY IMPORTANT DIFFERENCE (among many others too) between Germans and Hungarians, that the majority of Hungarians believe the lies told to them, that they participated in the Holocaust strictly because the Germans ordered them to collect the jews, confiscate their belongings, put them in camps and deport them to the death camps. (I will quote you from the Eichman trial confessions, below. ) Therefore many Hungarians never faced their past, never accepted the responsibility, to date they blame others for their own heinous crimes, and this became a national trait. Hungary is called “The unresponsible nation”, where people almost always try blame others, or the circumstances for their own mistakes, seldom resign, they hate to admit wrongdoing, therefore never correct their mistakes. I always quote George Santayana, a Spanish born American educated philosopher, poet and writer, because his statement fits Hungarians very well.
    “Those who cannot remember their past are condemned to repeat it.”
    ______________
    Now for the quote:
    “The German army was accompanied by a special unit (Sondereinsatzkommando – SEK) with orders to “dejewify” the country. The SEK was placed under the command of SS-Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann, head of the Reich Security Main Office’s (Reichssicherheitshauptamt – RSHA) IV/B/4 department, which was responsible for Jewish deportations across Europe. The SEK had no more than twenty officers and a force of over one hundred (including drivers, guards and secretaries, etc.). It was obvious that on its own, without the cooperation of the Hungarian authorities, the unit could not organise the collection and deportation of 760,000-780,000 Jews scattered all over the country with an area of 170,000 km2.

    Under German pressure, a few days following the occupation, Regent Miklós Horthy appointed a collaborating government ready to serve Nazi interests, led by former ambassador to Berlin Döme Sztójay. Interior ministry officials of the Sztójay cabinet (Minister of the Interior Andor Jaross and State Secretaries László Baky and László Endre) cooperated with the Germans with unexpected zeal. The “Final solution of the Jewish question in Hungary” got under way with a speed and efficiency surprising even the Germans: between mid April and late May practically the entire Jewish population of the countryside was ghettoized and, in the largest deportation operation in the history of the Holocaust, between May 15 and July 9, over 437,000 people (with the exception of 10,000-15,000) had been transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The speed with which the Hungarian authorities cast out Jews from society, then robbed, segregated and deported them was unprecedented in the entire history of the Holocaust.
    ———————
    Hungarians state, that there can be no commonality in crimes, you cannot say, that Hungary was at fault carrying sending Hungarian jews, gypsies, leftist to their seat or killing the, executing them. In other words for the wrongdoing of many, many individuals, they don’t want to take the blame as a country. YET!
    When a soccer team wins, when a few Hungarians get medals at the Olympics, when some of them do well, they are ready to say, as now you can read the slogan, Hungary Performs Better” In my opinion, to simplify it:
    A person who willingly joins a band of thieves, runs with them, drive the getaway car or just be the look-out, while they do the robbing, will also get sentenced to jail with the whole crew, even if he did not steal anything. One has to take the bad and the good, cannot just the good.

  15. Even worse, the “Hungary Performs Better” aka “Magyarország Jobban Teljesít” slogan not even a complete Hungarian sentence in the grammatical sense, – besides being a simple lie – but the “true Hungarians” keep repeating it in every occasion. (In case, you wondering, the Hungarian adverb “jobban” -the comparative form of “jól”- in this case acting as a comparative adverb, hence should be followed by a positive degree sooner or later, in this case: Hungary performs better, than xxxxx.)

    Not that easy to finish the sentence, I understand, because for example “Uganda” wouldn’t say much to the average Fidesz supporter, even if it was true, but still…

    I am not a single bit surprised about the government – after all, literacy isn’t the strongest virtue among them, but aren’t there any linguist with some guts to say it out loud, that it isn’t Hungarian, and please, learn your otherwise highly esteemed and overall praised language first, if being a “pure”(sic) Hungarian is all that important…

    Ps. Anyone who actually really knows what I tried to explain in English, please, feel free to correct!

  16. Hats off to Senators on the SFRC for finally asking some substantive questions to the campaign Money Bundler nominee Obama is rewarding with Hungary. The SFRC has in the last years hardly checked on the qualifications of any Ambassadorial nominees. This was routinely done in the past.

    Consequently, with little or no SFRC checking of qualifications, the number of international rookie Pay to Play Ambassadors has risen and the quality dropped.

    Non-professional political appointees are up 40% in the last 20 years. President Obama is setting a new high mark at about 37%. Increasingly his nominees are truly innocents in international affairs. They go all the major embassies. The hot, sweaty, underdeveloped places go to the professionals.

    Sadly, money increasingly rules in American politics. The 1% have a unique chance to buy a lifetime title.

    Ambassadorial leadership of our major European Embassies – a key to insuring that US security and economic interests are promoted — is increasingly being turned over to “pay to play” rookies.

    Such a strategy does not work in baseball, business, or science.

    Why not appoint the best? Not the most generous.

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