After some hesitation Hungary declares war on the U.S. and the EU

The title of yesterday’s post was “The Hungarian government turns up the heat on the NGOs.” Well, today it took on both the United States and the European Union.

After some initial hesitation when János Lázár profusely praised the United States and extolled the friendship between the two countries, it seems that the decision was reached within the closest circle around Viktor Orbán that Hungary will not be “intimidated” by anyone. Hungary will strike back. Within a day Lázár was instructed to change his tune and attack the evil United States. Although he hid his message to the United States on the website of his hometown, Hódmezővásárhely, by today all the nationwide papers and internet sites reported on Lázár’s new attitude toward the United States and the European Union. He accused the United States of treating Hungary like an unequal partner and alluded to the so-called “gendarme pertue,” a reference to the practice during the Horthy period according to which the gendarmes used the familiar form of address with the peasants while the rural inhabitants had to use the formal with the gendarmes.* Being loyal to the European Union does not mean being a yes-man. Budapest is a faithful ally of Washington–and not because it dares not demand proof of serious allegations.

National holidays always come in handy for politicians, and the anniversary of the 1956 October Revolution couldn’t have come at a better time. In the last couple of days several top politicians linked the events of 1956 with the current crisis. Lázár illustrated the democratic impulses of Hungarians by appealing to the 1956 events. Who would ever question the Hungarians’ total commitment to freedom and democracy? But the Hungarians were let down by the West. “If October 23 is the glory of the Hungarians, then November 4 is the shame of America and Western Europe.” Hungarians were duped and abandoned so often that by now they are extremely cautious. In his opinion, “the bankruptcy of the regime change is demonstrated by the fact that the slavery of the East was replaced by the tutelage of the West.” This happened because in the last twenty years Hungary had political leaders who did not represent the interest of the country but who stood for foreign interests within Hungary. “In 1990 Hungarians regained their freedom but they needed twenty years more to dare to exert their rights. Well, now we dare!… We are responsible for our lives but at the same time we have the right to live our lives on our own terms.” At the end of this declaration of war, Lázár expressed his belief that the world will understand the Hungarian position and will slowly accept this new reality. “We ask only what is our due: neither more nor less.”

Expropriating 1956--a real shame

Expropriating 1956–a real shame

Lázár’s note was followed by László Kövér’s even more specific references to Hungary’s possible new course. In an interview on the far-right Echo TV Kövér ruminated on Hungary’s relation to the European Union. For him it was the Tavares report that was the last straw because the European parliament “thinks they can tell us how to behave. In this respect Brussels reminds me of Moscow. It was customary in Moscow to call together the party secretaries of the socialist camp and publish joint communiqués … in which they told us what the member states can and cannot do. If that is the future of the European Union, then it is worthwhile to contemplate that perhaps we should slowly, carefully back out.” He quickly added, “I’m convinced that this is just a nightmare and that this is not the future of the European Union, although some people seriously think that the EU should move in this direction.”

Even the staff of Mandinera gathering place of the younger conservative generation, thought that drawing a parallel between Moscow and Brussels was “stupid.” And the author of the article listed some of the fallacies in Kövér’s contention. It was our sovereign decision to join the Union; we are members of the EU and not subjects as in the Soviet bloc; we can veto certain decisions unlike in the old days; there are no occupying forces in the country; we receive more money from the EU than we pay in; and finally, one of the official languages of the EU is Hungarian, while during the Kádár regime Russian was compulsory.

The last attack on the United States came from Gergely Gulyás, one of the few smart politicians in an otherwise intellectually undistinguished party. He was in Berlin when he delivered a speech at the Hungarian embassy on the Hungarian revolution of 1956. After a historical overview of what happened to Hungary between 1945 and 1990, he went straight to the question of democracy in Hungary. There can be no question that for the Hungarians “democracy is a sacred value for which they shed their blood.” The memory of the revolution is an eternal reminder that Hungarians live in a country of laws which are written down in the constitution. “Our freedom of today springs from our revolution of 1956.”

Well, it was here that I could hardly retain my composure. These people try to justify their undemocratic, illegitimate regime by appealing to the blood and sacrifice of the revolutionaries of 1956. And that is not all. He had the temerity to claim that those who question the existence of democracy and the rule of law in Hungary insult the memory of the heroes of the revolution.

Meanwhile, on another front, The Hungary Initiatives Foundation, which operates in the United States as a propaganda arm of the Orbán government, has lost almost half of its board members. Those who left are George E. Pataki, former governor of New York; Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, daughter of U.S. representative Tom Lantos and vice chair of the United States Commission on International and Religious Freedom; Susan Hutchison, executive director of the Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences; and Michael J. Horowitz, former director of the Hudson Institute’s Project for Civil Justice Reform and its Project for International Religious Liberty as well as a founding member of 21st Century Initiatives. Those remaining are former American ambassdor April H. Foley; Tamás Fellegi, a former member of the Orbán government; Dr. John P. Lipsky, former first deputy managing director of the IMF; Ambassador Kurt Volker, executive director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership; and Edith K. Lauer, chair emerita of the Hungarian American Coalition. Even among the remaining five we see some dissent. Kurt Volker, who used to be a steadfast supporter of Viktor Orbán, had some very harsh words about the latest Hungarian development in an interview with Péter Morvay in Washington.

Ágnes Vadai of the Demokratikus Koalíció reacted to the László Kövér interview by saying that anyone who wants to lead Hungary out of the European Union is “an enemy of the country.” As are those who blaspheme the memory of 1956.

*Apparently, gendarme pertu also means a slap in the face by the officer instead of greetings.


  1. OT

    “My wife told me several times already that she wouldn’t really mind living only in Germany, even if it meant only sporadic contact with her family. ”

    I totally get the problem, my mother is also not the happiest that we live in England and she doesn’t have enough contact with my daughter. It sometimes makes me cry and feel very guilty. I also get homesick from time to time and I regret living here, and wish it was easier just to go home for a few days. Just for a “sip of Hungary”. This, unfortunately is part and parcel of mixed marriages (also that at least one of them has to speak a foreign language all the time). I guess you are lucky that you have managed to organize living in both places. My husband helps by trying to speak Hungarian at home, or picking up green peppers and paprika sausages from the Hungarian shop for me, or watching a Hungarian film with me. It’s still not the same.

    However, the toxic atmosphere in Hungary can get so overwhelming and even threatening, that one puts the grandchildren issue into the “we’ll sort it out somehow” category. Even if Hungarians traditionally like to be in close relationship with the extended family. Even if the grandchildren are small. So I understand your wife!

  2. @petofi

    I’m most assuredly not a Fidesz troll.

    What I’m saying is that it’s a huge mistake for outsiders to readily assume that the populace isn’t prepared already by Fidesz, unfortunately it already is. It is absolutely not a recent phenomenon to hate the EU and the US — at Magyar Nemzet (and let’s forget Hir tv, Echo tv and the rest) that’s been the editorial line for well over a decade now. I have also yet to meet a fidesznik over the age of 50 who likes the EU or the US.

    I’m myself also surprised to hear so many people who denounce the EU and the US, but among the working class that’s the new normal, even if their relatives work abroad. It’s also not uncommon to hear EU employed Hungarians to express hatred towards the EU and immigrants. They have to blame somebody and they can’t blame themselves and the EU is a perfect and politically correct enemy (jews and gipsies are “good” too, but such jokes may not be tolerated by a more liberal audience, but nobody will defend the EU).

    I’m also saying that a lot of people who lean towards EU and NATO would not necessarily go to vote in a referendum, while the fideszniks and jobbikniks are all ready to go to vote.

    Pro-western types ignore the ideological preparation in this respect Fidesz has achieved at their peril.

    Media works, it works for Putin, it worked for Berlusconi and it has been working for Fidesz (it worked for Blair etc.). This isn’t rocket science.

  3. While I usually hate outlandish rhetoric like describing everything as war this and war that, there is an event today to which it is appropriate:

    The United Kingdom has in fact declared a diplomatic war on the European Union. They owe over 2 billion EUR to the European Union budget and they have stated they will not pay their debt. Imagine someone owes you money and they just spit in your face and say they will never pay it back. This is really something like a diplomatic war.

  4. Just occurred to me that Vince Berényi (interestingly given his age speaking fluent Russian) is an intern with Republican Congressman (Maryland) Andy P. Harris, as well as Péter Heltai also with Representative Harris. Young Hungarians working for the mighty US, who would’ve thought?

  5. Istvan:”If Hungary pulls out of the EU its escape valve for unemployed younger Hungarians gets cut off”

    I am curious, what the EU statute says about such an event. Would the Hungarian citizens working in other EU countries have to return to Hungary?

  6. @Verdi, I checked out these two guys. Both attended the Szent Ignác Jezsuita Szakkollégium. Does the Hungarian-American Coalition specialize in students attending this rather strange place?

  7. Cheshire cat: exactly. Often, I think, it’s just this “lying low and waiting for the bad things to pass” attitude. Because “it doesn’t matter anyway what I do, what I say, whether I vote”.

    Or really deep embitterment together with the traditional scapegoat-seeking and “seeing red” whenever anything that can be connected to Socialism is mentioned. In a discussion on a Finnish FB buddy’s wall, somebody quoted his Hungarian friend: “OK, Orbán is not perfect, but before him, the Socialists f***d it up even more badly.” Which seems to be enough to justify whatever Orbán is doing.

    The next question, of course, would be: what made the Hungarian people act this way, only understanding politics in terms of intense and passionate identification, love or hate (or total indifference), no compromises, no practical choices between “not perfect but passable in this situation” and “somewhat less good”.

    The Kádár system, with its constant lies and double standards, and its everyday “cocooning” in resigned fatalism? Or, rather, the centuries-old tradition of scapegoat-seeking and national self-pity (“why, oh why, does everybody hate us?”), together with the aristocratic legacy of Hungarian patriotism – the idea of being naturally, by birth, above other human beings and automatically entitled to certain privileges?

  8. Lázár: “If October 23 is the glory of the Hungarians, then November 4 is the shame of America and Western Europe.”

    To buddy’s and sebt’s previous remarks, I’d like to add that in a country like France, the reactions to ’56 by the leadership and citizens were quite different.

    Surely, the gov’t and assembly (it was a parliamentary regime at the time, with the Communist MPs as the largest single bloc) didn’t lift a finger, and instead did a lot… to quiet things up, particularly at the UN; their only concern was France’s own colonial interests, both in Egypt – the dumb Suez invasion – and Algeria. And yes, they were quite accommodating with Moscow, because of that; and certainly in favor of a status quo of influence spheres in Europe, which incidentally meant that they were also thoroughly engaged with their German counterparts in the European construction.

    For citizens, it was another matter. For the first time in a long while, three people died in demonstrations in Paris, on Nov. 7 when the CP headquarters were arsoned. Charities were organized, refugees were welcomed. And though the strength of the French Communist Party seemed to remain intact for a while, the Hungarian revolution had certainly put the worm in the fruit for many intellectuals as well as young people with leftist sensibilities. Ironically, Fidesz ideologues now use ‘May 68’ as a punching ball… but it owes a lot to the boldness of the Hungarian insurrection.

    French policymakers may be blamed for their focus on maintaining a doomed empire against the tide – but in that context Hungary was simply negligible. For many French citizens the uprising was important, and it certainly had a legacy. Honestly, I don’t see the shame.

  9. @cheshire cat
    AFAIK, current thinking is; kicking Hungary out of the EU would be to handing Hungary to the Russians. No one in the EU wants that and *everyone* knows that. However I don’t believe there is a way to kick any member country out.. is there even a way for a member country to exit… Please correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t believe that there is a “divorce clause” in the treaties.

  10. gdfxx: I am curious, what the EU statute says about such an event. Would the Hungarian citizens working in other EU countries have to return to Hungary?

    Most of them, probably. I don’t see Hungary being accepted in EFTA (home of the dangerous Norwegian, Swiss and Icelandic corrupting NGO-backers).

    But hey, there’s still Moscow. Go East, young man, go East …

  11. Afaik, the EU can’t kick out a member – but there is a clause that allows members to leave. Of course nobody really wants that, a lot of questions would arise like what to do with common projects, customs tariffs, rules for “foreign workers”, their pensions etc …

    The idea of the EU has always been to get the member states more integrated, not only economically but also politically up to EU laws for everything.


    I think it has been discussed before. Adenauer, Schumann, de Gaulle etc knew that they had to start slowly so they began with economics – the “Montanunon” was the first step, but it was clear that after economic unity political unity would have to follow to prevent those ugly wars that plagued every new generation in Europe throughout the Centuries!

  12. Eva S. Balogh: Die Welt headline: ” Ungarn braucht die EU, aber braucht die EU Ungarn? Good question” Die Welt is a conservative paper.

    Kudos to the German-speaking press and blogs, they’re doing a hell of a job these days.

    On Thursday, the editorial piece in Le Monde had the same title and content as the Foreign Affairs chronicle at the national public radio France Inter: ‘La Hongrie doit-elle rester dans l’Union Européenne ?’.

    The EU, the US, EFTA countries, public opinions in Germany, Poland, France … OV is burning bridges at the speed of light.

  13. Marcel Dé and Eva: Thank you for the link of the English translation of the KEHI report.

    I do believe that this so-called audit report is actually a prosecution report. This was not written by auditors.

  14. Lázár: “If October 23 is the glory of the Hungarians, then November 4 is the shame of America and Western Europe.”

    Interesting statement as America is actually trying to do something now against Fidesz, a party where the members biggest goal and achievements are to enrich themselves, to stir hatred and destroy democracy. Hey, Lazar America is stepping up to the plate now! I guess you are proud to America now!

  15. Just for test please, consider the possibility that I may even be right: Orbán has no any single ideology to stick to, Orbán has only a well looked after self-interest which is occasionally backed with bits and pieces of different ideological fragments, as the situation might require it, glued together with the “general sauce” of nationalism and the kind.

    The whole anti-American stance is present partly because he thinks that being pro Russian is automatically means that you have to show contempt toward the “other side”, partly because the Americans didn’t bought his crap at face value, even worse, they acted upon their opinion and put this wannabe dictator to his place.

    In short, in my opinion here is no conflict between the Western and Eastern values, it simply the case of a petty thief caught red handed and he tries to explain it away by accusing the other part.
    It needs a certain amount of epidermis on the facial areas to be able to speak up publicly, stating that he – and Hungary – will do everything, as soon as they’l get the names, but sorry, without it they’re just helpless…

    Well, if a PM so incompetent, shouldn’t he take some other job instead?

  16. @Some1. This kind of statements about America not coming to the rescue of Hungarians is truly ridiculous. Such a move may have triggered World War III.

  17. Sentrooppa Santra

    “The Kádár system, with its constant lies and double standards, and its everyday “cocooning” in resigned fatalism? Or, rather, the centuries-old tradition of scapegoat-seeking and national self-pity”

    Probably both, and many other things, as well.

    Certainly in the Kadar era, there was self-censorship, the idea of “let’s keep our mouths shut”, and “nothing is going to change anyway”. And the cross-society hypocrisy of.winking “you know, we say things we don’t mean because we have to and we live with it”. But as I remember, in the 80s at least, things were continuously getting better, more freedom, more jokes, history teachers overriding what’s in the official books, more private enterprises, more Western products in shops, more choice. More chances to travel, suddenly no visas needed to Western countries. Whereas now, everything seems to be getting WORSE.

    National self-pity, yes. And we Hungarians have this destructive desire to demand everything, and have everything AT ONCE. No compromise, no delay, no negotiation. No compromise between benefits and advantages. This “u’rhatna’m tehetetlense’g” (as Laszlo Nemeth put it), with which you watch others get along and wanting everything to fall into your lap without working for it. Hungary always had an inflated aristocratic class, who did nothing, apart from playing the piano, shooting game and eating, hence some of the tradition for it.

    So, like in the case of psychological therapies, it is “your childhood, and your mum’s full-time job, and your potty training etc” – but ultimately, you have to look at the present and seek a way out now. At the moment, Hungarians need to learn to create their autonomous opinion, stand up for it, argue for it, and learn to respect and accept it when others do so. Trust within society needs to be restored – somehow.

    I see this through educating the people better, showing them models how to do it, learning foreign languages and using them, travelling – because at the end of the day, Hungarians are not stupid, and can learn things remarkably quickly if they see the point.
    (I’d like to think.)

  18. Cheshire cat:
    I see this through educating the people better, showing them models how to do it, learning foreign languages and using them, travelling – because at the end of the day, Hungarians are not stupid

    I couldn’t agree more. And this is the direct opposite of what is happening in the Hungarian education system, as anybody can observe.
    The Central European school systems have never been really good at raising independent citizens for a civil society. At least in Austria, where my children went to school for some years, the system is still more about creating and perpetuating class boundaries. (The issue is whether you have gone to a grammar school where you learn Latin and trigonometry, not how well you have learnt them.) In Hungary, this tradition was obviously crushed by Socialism, but the connected “gentry” tradition of seeing teachers as badly paid and little respected extensions of nursery maids remained. My colleagues in Hungary complain that university freshmen are from year to year less independent and more and more stupid, they don’t know how to behave, they are completely insecure – and the only thing that can offer them security and confidence is Jobbik.

  19. @Istvan : You wrote – “Russia … will be forced to raise its prices on oil and other raw materials for its Eurasian partners including Hungary”…
    There is a world market for this sort of thing, and lots of countries produce oil. Moscow does not and cannot set the price of oil. The price, just now, is rather low – so low that a certain Russian minister has warned that the planned increase in military spending will have to be put off.
    You also wrote: “Internally within the United States social services will either be frozen or cut and transfers will be made to military expenditures. Taxes will also have to be increased.”
    Wait and see! The economy seems to be doing alright at the moment.

  20. Webber: ‘ You also wrote: “Internally within the United States social services will either be frozen or cut and transfers will be made to military expenditures. Taxes will also have to be increased.”
    Wait and see! The economy seems to be doing alright at the moment.’

    The key words: at the moment. There is an 18 trillion dollar debt and there are other tens of trillions coming due as government (at all levels) pension and Social Security and Medicare funds are exhausted. It’s easy to ignore these but they are a reality.

  21. This is outrageous. How dare they claim the revolution of 1956 for themselves when they are further from democratic principles and the rule of law than Imre Nagy was with his communist ideals. One thing is true about the current government though: they certainly don’t serve foreign interests. They only serve their own maffia’s interests. Even when they serve Russian interests, they only do it because they want to extort as much from them as possible.
    It’s simply outrageous that they dare call themselves democrats and that they claim to do everything on behalf of Hungary and the people of Hungary, when in fact they are the greatest traitors in Hungarian history.

  22. I’d like to draw attention to an instructive piece in HVG about the Orban regime’s foreign policy thinking behind the scenes, based on background interviews with unnnamed Fidesz officials.
    To summarize some of the key points that emerge from a quick read-through:
    – Orban and Co. think the real reason for the US travel bans is not corruption but growing pro-Russian orientation, and to a lesser extent harassment of civilian organizations. I think they are probably right about this, seeing as Orban’s foreign policy does more harm to US interests than does state capture by Fidesz.
    – Orban cares less about the US than about Germany. Despite the usual grumblings from the Atlanticist peripheries of Fidesz, Orban and his buddies remain unconcerned (or so they claim) by recent developments on the foreign policy front so long as Merkel refrains from adopting an aggressive stance towards the Orban regime. And thus far she has basically remained an ally. (BTW, a week or two ago HVG and the Budapest Business Journal reported that Audi had halted production in its Hungarian plants for three weeks, causing a precipitous plunge in Hungary’s production numbers, at the behest of the German government, to teach a lesson about how dependent Hungary is on Germany. This rumor quickly subsided. Does anyone seriously believe that Audi would follow orders from Berlin in this way?)
    – German foreign policy is fundamentally defined by the German industry’s dependence on cheap energy. It is therefore lenient towards Putin and, by extension, towards Orban.
    – Orban correctly sees that for Europe the only alternatives to energy dependence on Russia are the following:
    #1. Embracing nuclear energy
    #2. Renewable energy sources
    #3. Importing liquified shale gas from the US (this is music to the ears of the US petrochemical lobby, which keeps pushing for lifting barriers to environmentally devastating hydraulic fracking)
    Orban obviously prefers #1. He thinks Hungary can’t afford #2, and he is uninterested in #3 because he doesn’t give a damn about climate change or the environment. I think Orban’s preference for nuclear energy is also a function of the fact that the nuclear industry is one of the most corruption-friendly branches of the economy (especially if it is being developed in co-operation with Putin’s Russia). So Orban’s wager on nuclear energy is also motivated by his ambition to foster a new and regime-friendly economic elite in Hungary.
    To my mind, the article confirms something that should be obvious by now. Orbán and his gang may be a bunch of crooks who have successfully internalized all the pernicious nonsense they spout about rebuilding the nation, however, it is a grave mistake to underestimate their shrewdness.

  23. db: “environmentally devastating hydraulic fracking”

    The jury is still out on whether hydraulic fracking is or is not environmentally devastating.

  24. gdfxx: no, not really, there is by now a pretty massive body of (not just anecdotal) evidence showing that fracking leads to massive pollution of the groundwater (including the drinking water of millions) in coastal areas of the ocean (which is not just a sentimental concern but a matter of pretty nasty toxins ending up in our foodchain). Of course the petrochemical lobby sponsors research that spreads doubt about the environmental effects of fracking, just as the petrochemical lobby sponsors research that purports to call into question human-caused climate change and the tobacco industry used to sponsor research that tried to call into question the connection between smoking and cancer. Hungarian Spectrum may not be the best platform for debating the available data. However, even if we leave aside the impact on groundwater and the oceans, we can perhaps agree on a less controversial claim: given the near-certain fact that climate change is caused by carbon emission linked to human activity, and given the threat that this poses to human civilization as we know it, drastically cutting back on carbon extraction MUST be a priority for humankind. Otherwise it’s the end of the story for our species.

  25. db: “However, even if we leave aside the impact on groundwater and the oceans, we can perhaps agree on a less controversial claim: given the near-certain fact that climate change is caused by carbon emission linked to human activity, and given the threat that this poses to human civilization as we know it, drastically cutting back on carbon extraction MUST be a priority for humankind. Otherwise it’s the end of the story for our species.”

    I agree that this is not the place to discuss this topic. But it wasn’t I who started it. To end on my end: I agree that the reduction of carbon usage is a priority. But an even higher priority is to find a realistic replacement for the energy usage of the humanity. The recent announcement of Lockheed Martin of a practical fusion reactor is promising. Otherwise at this time nuclear power is the only practical replacement, but most environmentalists oppose that too. And then the only option left is to reduce the earth’s population, turn back to the horse an buggy and either move to warmer climates or move into relatively warm caves.

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