“We’re not Nazis, but …”: Human Rights First report on Hungary and Greece

As I reported a few days ago, members of the Hungarian right-wing media and pro-government “political scientists” were outraged because editorials in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal called on the European Union to introduce sanctions against the Orbán government. The occasion was Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s July 26th speech in which he expressed his belief in the illiberal state’s superiority over the liberal state. A week or so later Charles Gati, an American political scientist, published an article in which he outlined the very limited options, in his opinion, the U.S. government has in influencing Viktor Orbán’s domestic policies. Again, members of the right-wing press were beside themselves, especially because they suspect Gati, who is of Hungarian origin, of having influence in Washington. They think that he and some other “unpatriotic” Hungarians are the only reason the U.S. government has a less than favorable opinion of the current government in Budapest.

Well, if they were offended by editorials in some of the leading American papers and Charles Gati’s list of modest steps Washington can take, I can’t imagine what kinds of editorials will appear in Magyar Nemzet, Válasz, and Magyar Hírlap after the appearance of a report by Human Rights First (HRF),”an independent advocacy and action organization that challenges America to live up to its ideals.” HRF is one of those non-governmental organizations that Viktor Orbán would like to stamp out in Hungary. And what temerity! HRF calls on the U.S. government, Congress, the European Commission, and the local governments to take steps to restore democracy and combat extremism, racism, and homophobia in the two countries the report deals with: Hungary and Greece.

Human Rights First

In Hungary 444.hu was the first to report on We’re not Nazis, but … The Rise of Hate Parties in Hungary and Greece and Why America Should Care. The reaction of this online paper was well expressed in the article’s headline: “It has been a long time since Hungary has received such a kick in the behind.” Well, that might be an exaggeration, but the report is very hard-hitting. As the Hungarian saying goes, the government “will not put this in the shop window.”

First, let me start by saying that the report is much more than what the title suggests. Sonni Efron, senior fellow, and Tad Stanke, vice president of research and analysis, are the authors of the study, which I consider the best detailed analysis of the current Hungarian (and Greek) political situation. To give you an idea of the thoroughness of the report: It is 122 pages long, out of which close to 40 pages deal exclusively with Hungary. More than half of the 388 footnotes pertain to Hungary. Every important development, every important detail of the Hungarian far right can be found here. But just as important, if not more so, there is a separate chapter entitled: “Orbán: Increasingly Problematic U.S. Ally.” And here are a few of the topics discussed: Retreat from Democracy, Human Rights, and the Rule of Law; Rewrites the Election Law to Favor Itself; April Election: Free but Not Fair; After Re-election, Cracks Down on NGOs; Pursues Revisionist History; Co-opts Jobbik’s Agenda.

So, what are the recommendations that will most likely send the Hungarian government and its media empire into a rage? Here are some of them:

(1) The President should adopt a policy to reverse Hungary’s backsliding on democracy. This policy should be an integral part of the U.S. strategy to reinforce the Transatlantic Alliance  in the face of Russian action in Ukraine. The President in his September speech to the U.N. General Assembly should refute Orbán’s notion that “illiberal” nations are better off economically and articulate the dangers that authoritarian regimes pose to peace, prosperity and fundamental freedoms.

(2) The President should instruct the Director of National Intelligence to investigate allegations of Russian and Iranian financial or other support of European far-right parties.

(3) At the North Atlantic Council meeting at the 2014 NATO summit, he should express concern about the rise of neo-fascist parties in Europe and its impact on security and good government in NATO member countries and the strength of the Alliance.

(4) The President should task relevant U.S. agencies with compiling information on corruption by Hungarian political and business leaders as well as government officials suspected of funding violent extremists.

(5) The President should direct the Departments of Commerce, Treasury, and State as well as USAID to step up efforts to promote broad-based economic recovery and entrepreneurship in Hungary, with emphasis on combating youth unemployment.

(6) The President should install a U.S. ambassador seasoned in managing the complex relationship with an ally that also has major challenges in democratic governance and protecting human rights.

(7) The President should send senior public citizens, including former U.S. officials from both parties, to Budapest to discuss how abandoning liberal democracy would result in increasing political, economic, and strategic isolation for Hungary.

(8) The President should speak out about the intimidation of independent media and NGOs, and the chilling effect it is having on Hungarian society.

(9) The President should prioritize efforts to support embattled independent media, NGOs, and human rights defenders in Hungary. Develop a communications strategy to reach Hungarians who depend mainly on the state-dominated news outlets for information.

And these suggestions are only for the President. The report also has a long list of tasks for the State Department. John Kerry should convey to senior European leaders U.S. support of EU efforts to hold Hungary accountable for violation of EU law. He should support the implementation of the European Commission’s new framework for addressing systemic threats to the rule of law in the European Union. Hungary should be removed from the Governing Council of the Community of Democracies. Kerry should talk about American disapproval of the government’s intimidation of the Hungarian media. The U.S. should fund programs to support independent media outlets which are on the verge of disappearing. Kerry should take a less charitable view of the Hungarian government’s half-hearted efforts to combat anti-Semitism. He should also condemn the raids on Hungarian NGOs receiving funds from foreign donors. The United States should work with European partners to fund embattled NGOs.

HRF also has suggestions for the U.S. Congress, the European Commission, and finally the Hungarian government itself. For instance, the Orbán government should revise the constitution to allow the executive to be effective while reinstating checks and balances on executive power and should combat hate crimes and discrimination.

MTI did not report on the appearance of the HRF Report, only on Jobbik MP Márton Gyöngyösi’s reaction to the report at a press conference held this afternoon in front of the United States Embassy. Gyöngyösi is the party’s foreign relations expert. He made quite a name for himself when in 2012 he gave an interview to the Jewish Chronicle in which he claimed that Jews were colonizing Hungary. In the same interview he questioned whether 400,000 Jews were really killed or deported from Hungary to Nazi death camps during World War II. I wrote at length about Gyöngyösi and his background at the time of this infamous interview.

So what does this Jobbik foreign policy expert think of the HRF’s report? According to him, there is already a program in place in the United States which with the assistance of U.S. national security forces, foreign paid NGOs, and the so-called “independent press” is designed to discipline Hungary and make her return to “the road of neoliberalism.” Given this situation Jobbik calls on Fidesz and the government to stop its double-game and decide whether it stands for Euro-Atlanticism or is on the side of those people committed to the nation. According to Gyöngyösi, ever since 2010 there have been several verbal attacks on Hungarian sovereignty, but to date this is the most savage and aggressive interference in the domestic affairs of the country. He is not surprised that the key target of the report is Jobbik because it is “the most resolute defender of Hungarian sovereignty.” He also wanted to know about the role of the U.S. Embassy in Budapest in organizing a spy network.

There is nothing surprising about Jobbik’s swift reaction to the appearance of the report. MTI’s silence does not come as a surprise either, given MTI’s self-censorship of any news that reflects badly on the government. As of now, every newspaper, including Magyar Nemzet, has simply republished MTI’s release on Gyöngyösi’s press conference. However, HírTV was present at Gyöngyösi’s performance, and therefore Magyar Nemzet, which is affiliated with HírTV, had some additional information. Although MTI did not mention it, Gyöngyösi suggested to the Americans that instead of trying to “overthrow Hungarian national sovereignty” they should bring charges against those politicians who commit crimes against humanity. For example, the leaders of Israel. The usual Jobbik answer to everything.


  1. This is very important, and I would like to get hold of a copy of this report. As a member of a Hungarian family, a British subject, EU citizen and teacher (in Hungary) of Inter-cultural relations, I am very worried by the political atmosphere at present, in particular the anti-Semitism and xenophobia I have recently experienced, which was not present in the 1990s, when I first came here. In particular, the denial of the Hungarian state’s historic responsibility for the Holocaust of March 1944 – April 1945 in Hungary, and the twisting of the seventieth commemoration of these tragic events, has greatly alarmed me, as I have Jewish family and friends who survived them.

  2. As far as Hungary is concerned, this document reads like an anthology of previous reports issued over the last six years about the country’s far-right and its relations with the ruling majority. It contains very little the long-time readers of HS haven’t already been made aware of.

    There is at least one gem though, and it’s a reference to an analysis paper by András Bíró Nagy, Tamás Boros & Áron Varga published in 2012 by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, listing electoral promises of Jobbik in 2010 that were actually… fulfilled by Fidesz-KDNP. Page 7, here: http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/id-moe/09566.pdf

    Now, though the portrait that emerges from this well-structured compilation is certainly abysmal, I somehow regret its chosen focus on the political manifestations and legal aspects of the phenomena does leave out the more grass-roots, sociological aspects. One thing that struck me those last years was Jobbik’s open activism during the Ajka red sludge and the Danube floods: in my home country they would have been if not booted out, or at least asked to leave their t-shirts and logos at home when performing relief work.

    But not here – why? And how may anyone think the recommendations to the U.S. administration enclosed in HRF’s report will have any effect on this? Of course, political and legal aspects are HRF’s domain of choice and no serious NGO will claim they have a ‘global’ vision of the issues they’re dealing with. However I’m definitely missing something.

  3. OT. Just an interesting tidbit. In the blogosphere Imre Kertész [along with Péter Geszti, Károly Gerendai, Tereskova — people who once seemed to oppose Fidesz’ cultural and other idiocies, but since then “realized” that they are destined be the so called “bridge people”, i.e. they all accepted millions from the government for questionable cultural projects] is called a collaborant, a term with interesting connotations. It seems people with self-respect just aren’t expected to make a “compromise” with this system (ie. this is not just a government, and not even a regime). Sorry, but Kertész is – whether or not he is still capable of comprehension – a collaborant in that sense. He rendered himself a so-called fellow-traveller, like the originally “népi” authors László Németh, Péter Veres, Gyula Fekete etc. were of the communists.To be honest, I am not sure if I could sleep in the same room with his book if I still had Sorstalanság (which I lent it to someone, so this is not an issue now).

  4. I am still in the process of digesting this report. Initially I would say as it relates to recommendations to my government here in the United States is that there are too many of them to be actionable.

    Hungarian Americans need to circulate this report in our communities. I have sent it out to 50 people already even though I think I might have some limited reservations about it. I hate to say it but here in Chicago I expect one attack on the HRF report will be that it’s liberal nonsense and another attack on Hungarian nationalism by Jewish interests.

    As I have said before on this blog, unfortunately there is little contact between the aging Hungarian speaking Jews in the Chicago area and the Hungarian speaking community that is largely church based. I have never met an individual here in Chicago who is of Hungarian Jewish ancestry and born in this country who speaks and or reads Hungarian.

    As I dive deep into the report I hopefully will post some detailed comments on the document itself.

  5. I don’t know the nuts and bolts of the Kertesz ‘honor’ nor his acceptance of it. (Will he be traveling to Budapest to receive it?) But my feelings are the same as the stomach-churning nausea I had
    when seeing Solzhenitsyn kiss Putin’s hand on his return to Moscow…

  6. I understand that Kertész is in a Pécs hospital where he thinks that he can better treatment than in Berlin. He must be in very bad shape and not quite himself. Perhaps it is his wife who either convinced him or just acted on his behalf. I suspect that she will be the one who picks up the Order of St. Stephen.

    You can read more about this particular decoration here:


  7. We are one of the many unfortunate nations in the world.
    Few Iranians, few Syrians, few Palestinians like their leaders, who are outright dangerous to the health of their nations.
    Few people liked Horthy, and the Soviet inspired other regimes after him.
    Orban is again a danger to our health.
    Unfortunately, we do not have a broad base that would demand decency and balanced justice from our politicians.
    The Human Right advocates wiil have a reach collection of all kind of violations on our freedom, until a new enlightened reform movement grows up in Hungary.

  8. Far-right protestors verbally abuse and attack protestors at “occupation” memorial.


    I applaud the work of HRF. There is another group working locally in Hungary on this issue and they get little attention. They have been warning for several years that the far-right groups would continue their violent escalation. The Athena Institute keeps a record of extremist group activities. They provide far more background on these groups than found in the HRF report.

    I encourage readers to use this site as a source of info.

    English: http://www.athenainstitute.eu/en/index/
    Magyar: http://www.athenaintezet.hu/index/

  9. Kertesz at Pecs Hospital

    With Kertesz in a Hungarian hospital…that explains everything: they don’t want to jeopardize his treatment by a refusal of the ‘honor’. It’s as simple as that.

  10. I have now had a chance to completely read through the HRF report, it is an excellent introduction to the crisis of democracy in Hungary and it should be decimated widely. I do not want to go into great detail about problematic aspects of the report and there were a few, but I do want to discuss some of its recommendations to my government in the United States.

    I would be shocked if the Hungarian American Coalition even posted a link to this report, I would also suggest that the Coalition would actively oppose some of the recommendations to the US government made by this report. It should be noted that the Hungarian (Magyar) Club of Chicago is a member of the collation as is Hungarian Cultural Society of Connecticut in Eva’s home state. But the odd thing about the coalition is that the American Hungarian Federation belongs to it and the Federation is in my opinion very hostile to Russia and pro-NATO. None the less the AHF has aggressively defended the Orban government in a letter to Sec. Kerry (http://www.americanhungarianfederation.org/news_JohnKerry_Diplomacy.html)

    I suspect Amerikai Magyar Népszava Szabadság will give the report some coverage.

    In relationship to a few of the recommendations:

    1 “Install a U.S. ambassador seasoned in managing the complex relationship with an ally that also has major challenges in democratic governance and protecting human rights.” I totally agree.

    2 “Secretary Kerry, in talks with senior European leaders, should convey U.S. support for E.U. efforts to hold Hungary accountable for violation of E.U. law, up to and including Article 7 proceedings, while respecting the E.U.’s sovereign right to make such decisions. ” I have real reservations about my government doing this, it needs to come from inside the EU and having Kerry do this could create support among conservative European Parliament members to oppose such an action.

    3. “Express disapproval of the government’s intimidation of the Hungarian media and other actions that have chilled free expression. Fund programs to support independent media outlets, which are on the verge of disappearing. Provide digital security training to independent Hungarian media and NGOs. ” I agree the US should express disapproval of Hungarian government actions that impede free expression in the media. I am totally opposed to any US government funding of media outlets in Hungary.

    4. “Condemn the raids on Hungarian NGOs receiving funds from foreign donors as direct intimidation. Insist that Hungarian authorities not abuse their power to investigate specific violations of campaign finance law or other suspected irregularities in order to harass NGOs not connected to those violations. Express the expectation that a European Union country should not use administrative harassment as a means to curtail the legal activities of NGOs.” I agree.

    5. “Direct the Departments of Commerce, Treasury, and State as well as USAID to step up efforts to promote broad-based economic recovery and entrepreneurship in Greece and Hungary, with emphasis on combatting youth unemployment and other factors contributing to radicalization.” I don’t agree with this proposal because USAID has not been effective when working with more advanced economies like Hungary’s. There are complex problems relating to the Hungarian wage structure inside the EU and relating to German production in Hungary. The USAID can’t address these issues and in fact it has not addressed such issues in the US relationship with Mexico.

    6. “Instruct the Director of National Intelligence to investigate allegations of Russian and Iranian financial or other support of European far-right parties and present a classified assessment of whether the Kremlin is attempting to use such parties to undermine the European Union or thwart further NATO expansion. Release an unclassified version to Congress and the public.” I am opposed to this proposal because I personally believe the CIA/NSA is already doing this. I do not believe such information should be made public unless it is in the strategic interest of the United States.

    I would be interested in Eva’s perspectives on these recommendations contained in the HRF report since she too is a Hungarian American and an extremely knowledgable one I would add.

  11. For me the most telling quote is from page 14, where Jobbik and Golden Dawn are being described in the context of “their malevolence and the corrosive effect they have on their
    societies and the political conversation in Europe”:

    “(they) should not be underestimated.They are more than Eurosceptic: they want their
    countries out of the European Union precisely because they do not respect
    fundamental European values, including human rights, non-discrimination, and
    democratic checks and balances. They also oppose the limits on national sovereignty
    and the commitments to respect existing borders to which their countries agreed in
    order to join the E.U.”

    Although, as regards Hungary, this is only intended to apply to Jobbik, it is also a pretty accurate description of Fidesz, and very much supports the opinion you often hear on HS – that Jobbik and Fidesz are essentially two points on the same spectrum (and are in fact not even that far apart). Or, as I often put it, not two parties at all, but effectively Fidesz-Jobbik.

    In the report, both Hungarian and Greek governments are criticised for the way they have dealt with (or not) their respective neo-Nazi parties, but there is a critical difference to this criticism. In Greece’s case the problems are that the government was too late in reacting or was unable to react properly due to the number of Golden Dawn supporters there are in the police and military (etc). But now, albeit late and not particularly effectively, the government is at last trying to exert itself and bring the extreme right under control.

    But in Hungary’s case, the criticism is very different. It’s not about late of ineffective reaction, it is about no real reaction at all – or a watered down, weasel-word response forced out of them when they have to say something. The Greek government is criticised for it’s ineffectiveness, but not for it’s lack of desire to see Golden Dawn brought to book and controlled. Whereas the Hungarian government is criticised not just for doing nothing, but not even realising that anything needs to be done – or is wrong.

    Because, of course, as far as Orbán is concerned, there is nothing wrong – all the “Fidesz youth wing” are doing is perhaps going a little too far by saying things that everyone knows are true, but which will upset the US and the EU.

    The problem in Greece is Golden Dawn, but the problem on Hungary is not the nutters and minority support of Jobbik, but the government itself.

  12. There are strong supporters of HRF’ ideas but part of these suggestions are just childish and counterproductive.



    “… I am also alarmed by the electoral successes of extremist parties in a number of European countries – not only in the most recent European Union Parliament elections, but in national and local elections as well. Two countries in Europe, Hungary and Greece, have extremist parties associated with street militia. All of Greece’s Golden Dawn MPs are now facing a variety of criminal charges, from attacks on immigrants to one case of alleged murder. The racist remarks of a Polish MEP in the European Parliament last week illustrate continuing prejudice towards people of African descent in the region. Most dangerously, extremism has also bled into the “mainstream.” Years of anti-Roma rhetoric crudely stereotyping Roma as criminals, sometimes voiced by officials at the highest levels of government, has fueled an escalation of vigilante attacks and other repressive measures against Roma… “

  13. @Istvan. A couple of things. You must realize that for these people human rights really come first. Everything is subordinated to that idea. Therefore, some of their recommendations are unrealistic in the world of politics.

    As for the US government directly supporting the Hungarian media it is something that will not happen. At least not directly. However, American individuals and foundations could help.

    Finally, I have very bad opinion of the Coalition. They represent a very small and conservative segment of Hungarians living in this country. For years they have been lobbying exclusively on behalf of Fidesz and the current government.

    Just to give you an example of their even-handedness. Quite a few years ago I read on their webpage that the Coalition is sponsoring a three-week trip of Fidesz MPs to Washington to learn about America and democracy. I happened to know the president of the Coalition at the time and I decided to ask him why only Fidesz MPs have that wonderful opportunity. The answer was that they offered the same to the other parties but they declined the offer.

    That sounded awfully fishy to me and I decided to write to the whip of the MSZP parliamentary delegation who happened to be Ildikó Lendvai and asked her what the situation was. The president lied. No one ever offered anything to the other parties. So much for the Coalition representing the interest of Hungary. When Fidesz was not in power, they actually lobbied against the socialist-liberal governments in the State Department..

    As far as the Coalition’s effectiveness is concerned I think it is minimal. It is an organization Hungarians call a “gittegylet.” If you read Ferenc Molnár’s novel, The boys of Pál Street, you know what I am talking about. One of the duties of the members of the gang was to keep the putty moist which could be achieved by chewing it. A totally useless exercise. That is a fitting description of these ethnic groups’ activities.

  14. @Petofi: “With Kertesz in a Hungarian hospital…that explains everything: they don’t want to jeopardize his treatment by a refusal of the ‘honor’. It’s as simple as that.”

    It explains nothing. Nothing would have jeopardized his treatment if he had just stayed in Berlin. No, it’s either (1) personal motivation, (2) family motivation or (3) late-stage .

  15. Stevan: I hope they will have live streaming while Kertesz receives his award. I cannot wait to hear the acceptance speech….

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