American rapprochement with Viktor Orbán’s Hungary?

While readers of Hungarian Spectrum continue to discuss the possible reasons for André Goodfriend’s departure, let me share one right-wing Hungarian reaction to the exit of the former chargé, István Lovas’s opinion piece in yesterday’s Magyar Hírlap titled “The Bell Change.”

One could devote a whole series of posts to István Lovas himself, from his brush with the law as a teenager to the open letter he wrote recently to Vladimir Putin in which he asked him to start a Hungarian-language “Russia Today” because the Russian propaganda television station is actually much better than BBC. Lovas lived in Canada, the United States, and Germany, where he worked for Radio Free Europe. He was considered to be a difficult man who caused a lot of turmoil in the Hungarian section of the organization.

For many years Lovas was a devoted Fidesz man. He already held important positions in the first Orbán government (1998-2002). For years he worked for Magyar Nemzet, most recently as its Brussels correspondent, but a few months ago Lovas, along with a number of other Orbán stalwarts, lost his job. Mind you, the European Parliament had had enough of Lovas even before he was sacked by Magyar Nemzet, especially after he presented a bucket of artificial blood to Sophie in ‘t Veld, the Dutch liberal MEP. The bucket of blood was supposed to symbolize the Palestinian children who were victims of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Lovas, himself of Jewish descent, is a well-known anti-Semite.

After having lost his job at Magyar Nemzet and after Putin failed to respond to his plea for a Hungarian “Russia Today,” Lovas moved on. Gábor Széles, who owns Magyar Hírlap and EchoTV, offered him a job. Now he has a weekly political program called “Fault Lines” (Törésvonalak) on EchoTV, and he also writes opinion pieces for Széles’s newspaper.

So how does István Lovas see American-Hungarian relations in the wake of the arrival of Colleen Bell and the departure of André Goodfriend? To summarize his opinion in one sentence: from here on the United States and the Orbán government will be the best of friends.

According to Lovas, André Goodfriend was the darling of those lost liberals who have been wandering in the wilderness “ever since SZDSZ was thrown into the garbage heap of history.” They are still hoping that nothing will change. Originally they were certain that Goodfriend would run the embassy while the newly arrived ambassador would be its public face. Meanwhile, Goodfriend would continue visiting “left/neoliberal SZDSZ or MSZP politicians and intellectuals.”

These liberal hopes were dashed soon after Colleen Bell’s arrival. The new orientation was clear from day one. Bell went and laid a wreath at the statue of the unknown soldier on Heroes’ Square. She visited the Csángó Ball organized every year to celebrate a fairly mysterious group of Hungarians living in the Romanian region of Moldavia, speaking an old Hungarian dialect. These are important signs of the new American attitude toward things dear to the current government: fallen heroes and national minorities. Certainly, says Lovas, Goodfriend would never have been found in such places. Yet liberals don’t seem to have grasped the significance of all this. They think that more Hungarians will be banished from the United States and that Hungary will have to pay a high price for peace with the United States. Most likely, Orbán will have to compromise on Paks, on Russian-Hungarian relations in general, and/or will have to buy American helicopters.

But Lovas has bad news for them. There will be no more talk about corruption cases, and Hungary will pay no price whatsoever. Colleen Bell realized that Goodfriend’s methods had failed. Of course, Lovas is talking nonsense here. Even if Lovas is right about a change in U.S. policy, it was not Bell who decided on this new strategy but the United States government.

Lovas is certain that the change has already occurred. It is enough to look at the new website of the U.S. Embassy in Budapest. There are no more programs on tolerance, on Holocaust events, “all those things that are kicks in the groin of the Hungarian people and their elected government.” A drastic change occurred in U.S.-Hungarian relations which even such liberal-socialist diplomats as Péter Balázs, foreign minister in the Bajnai government, László Kovács, foreign minister under Gyula Horn, or András Simonyi, ambassador to Washington (2002-2010), couldn’t explain away.

This change couldn’t have taken place if Goodfriend had stayed or if the Orbán government had conducted “the kind of servile atlantist policy recommended by Géza Jeszenszky,” foreign minister under József Antall and ambassador to Washington during the first Orbán government. Jeszenszky, who just resigned as ambassador to Norway, had a long interview in which he expressed his deep disappointment with Viktor Orbán and his foreign policy, especially with his attitude toward the United States.

According to Lovas, what happened recently is a victory for Orbán’s foreign policy, a feat that “could be achieved only by the courage and tenacity” of the Hungarian prime minister. The United States government tried to mend its ways by sending someone to Budapest who is not worried about such things as tolerance or the Holocaust. From here on the Budapest embassy will function just as American embassies do in other capitals. The U.S. Embassy in Vienna, for example, does not report “breaking news” about the Anschluss.

Lovas might exaggerate, but something is going on. When was the last time that Viktor Orbán called together the whips of all political parties for a discussion on Hungarian foreign policy? As far as I know, never. As Magyar Nemzet put it, “Viktor Orbán asked for the support of the political parties in reaching the nation’s foreign policy goals.” Among the topics was the objective of “strengthening the American-Hungarian alliance.” Péter Szijjártó, who was of course present, claimed that “political relations with the United States are improving” and that the Orbán government “will take further steps toward the restoration of earlier economic, political, and military cooperation.”

The meeting of the leaders of the parliamentary delegations  Source: MTI / Photo Gergely Botár

The meeting of the leaders of the parliamentary delegations convened by Viktor Orbán
Source: MTI / Photo Gergely Botár

I’m sure that we all want better relations between Hungary and the United States, but the question is at what price. The United States can’t close its eyes to Viktor Orbán’s blatant attacks on democracy, the media, human rights, and civil society. And then there is the timing of this alleged renewed love affair between Budapest and Washington. If true, and that’s a big if, it couldn’t have come at a worse time for Hungarian democracy–yes, liberal democracy. Just when Viktor Orbán’s support is dropping precipitously and when it looks as if he may lose his precious two-thirds majority in spite of all the billions of forints he promised from taxpayer money to the city of Veszprém to buy votes. When a large part of the hitherto slavish right-wing media at last decided to return to more critical and balanced journalism.

No, this is not the time to court Viktor Orbán. It would be a grave mistake. It is, in fact, time to be tough because the great leader is in trouble. Trouble abroad, trouble at home. Frans Timmermans, the first vice-president of the European Commission, in a speech to the European Parliament said the following without mentioning Viktor Orbán’s name: “We cannot let our societies imperceptibly slip back; we cannot allow illiberal logics to take hold. There is no such thing as an illiberal democracy…. We are keeping a close eye on all issues arising in Member States relating to the rule of law, and I will not hesitate to use the [EU Rule of Framework established last March] if required by the situation in a particular Member State.”

129 comments

  1. buddy,

    Let’s not confuse two things. The US is under no obligation to help Hungary or the Hungarian opposition. That much is clear (even if we established that the US did successfully help Germany, putting it on an exemplary democratic path, but Germany may be the exception).

    But it is quite another thing to see the US saying repeatedly that André Goodfriend is staying and then see him recalled (by everybody’s belief) and bid farewell under strange circumstances. Well all know that under American conventions politeness dictates to say a few nice words even about your enemy, let alone about a colleague who is leaving ostensibly for family/health reasons.

    The US has an extremely poor record of forging deals with/reading people from other cultures. W famously looked in to the eyes of Putin, Obama reset the relationship with Russia, the US State Department eat everything Orban fed them when he was in opposition (see wikileaks cables). I also remember how Iraqi “dissidents” fooled the entire American intelligence and foreign service establishment when any suspecting, cynical European would said that they were idiots (although perhaps these dissidents played their role perfectly, because nobody really cared about iraqi domestic politics, just wanted to take over the oil wells), and the list goes on and on.

    Thus it is a fully rational assumption (even without the standard Eastern-European cynicism) that the US again entered into some stupid understating with Orban, that it was fooled again. To be concerned about this possibility is I think fair.

    Webber’s points are fair and intelligent. But it is a mistake not take into account perception, projection of power, the metanarratives, the smoke and mirrors etc. especially when the truth will remain hidden (which is normal for diplomatic developments).

    Unless the US wants to use the nukes, it has to rely on its image, its power as it is perceived. That perception is under strategic attack by Putin and by Orban and whatever the truth, the reality is in this case, the US has to be more proactive in guarding its image.

  2. The Obama administration, when it comes to foreign policy, seems to be the ultimate pragmatists. It appears that the main U.S. objective in the recent period has been to minimize Hungary’s backsliding on NATO/Russia relations, and all of the issues surrounding that (Ukraine, energy security). I also imagine the U.S feels some form of carrot/stick approach is necessary, and if there has been a change in Hungarian behavior, then there will be some carrot. Whether this entailed Goodfriend being “sent home”, I have no idea. If it means a cooling of the rhetoric and a de-emphasizing of the “corruption” issue, that I clearly can imagine. While maintaining democratic norms and corruption are, I am sure, important to the U.S., they are not paramount. Obama is despite his occasional rhetoric (see early Cairo speech) not at all a Wilsonian, and does not see foreign relations on a moral level (especially with a less than important small European country where he feels it is really the EU’s job to defend democratic norms). The U.S. pressure was great while it lasted. The Orban government seemingly got the message that straying too much from the U.S. line is not wise. What happens from now on, depends on what the EU wants to do as follow up (I suspect not much) and how well Orban is able to continue his balancing act between the West and Russia (not easy for him). Sadly, I fear if the Minsk “treaty” nominally holds, many EU countries (eg, Austria, Czech, Slovak…) will be more than happy to ratchet down the sanctions on Russia, and Orban will again have a much freer hand (both internationally and domestically).

  3. @Hegyi

    “Told you guys, Orban’s winning and eating the mighty US for breakfast.”

    Even though this is clearly true and their has been a meeting in a White house in which they decided that they had done all they could against Orban, but Orban it simply too clever that they have to end this battle and try to safe the US from having an enemy that strong….could you please explain what Orban is exactly winning and how this is good for the Hungarian people?

    I am probably too stupid to understand it, but please enlighten me how the Hungarians benefit from the illiberal democracy?

    I may not use the correct dictionary, so you could help me with sending the proper definition of illiberal. Mine says:

    illiberal (ɪˈlɪbərəl)

    1. narrow-minded; prejudiced; bigoted; intolerant
    2. not generous; mean
    3. lacking in culture or refinement

  4. I am very happy that Goodfriend left Hungary. Goodfriend’s name came to symbolize hatred for Hungarians, contempt for rules and norms, intervention into domestic affairs, violation of the Vienna Convention, taking sides in internal Hungarian politics and arrogance in dealing with Hungarians.

    The best example is the one written by the famous Professor Maria Schmidt, quote:

    “I was asked as early as just before Christmas 2013 by US Deputy Chief of Mission Mr. André Goodfriend – of course on a strictly “friendly” basis – for a list of the names of those working on the House of Fates project. Then a fortnight later he told me – again, on a friendly basis – that he did not agree with the participation of some of those included in the list. “I wasn’t aware that you needed to agree” was my response, also on a friendly basis.”

    http://hungarianglobe.mandiner.hu/cikk/20141003_schmidt_maria_a_love_story

    The fact that Goodfriend demanded names of a project (janitors?? guides?? research assistants?) working on preparing a historical project is surprising by itself but then the fact he felt the need to say “he didn’t agree with the participation” of some says it all. This type of micromanagement of the life in Hungary was I suspect one of the reasons for Goodfriend’s removal.

    His actions often had unintended consequences (such as the strengthening of Jobbik which was also – partly – a result of Goodfriend’s work).

    But whatever the reason why Goodfriend left Hungary (and if it was a serious family matter, I hope he can resolve it positively), this was the best thing that happened to Hungary in a long time.

    Hungary needs better relations with the United States and Goodfriend’s removal from this situation is certainly a big step in the very right direction.

    I urge all the parties in my nation (including opposition parties like MSZP and LMP) to do everything in their power to improve relations with the US.

    As a response to this wonderful news about Goodfriend, many positive gestures are needed from Hungary, towards the US. There are many possibilities that benefit both Hungary and the US to some degree. One would be setting up a new route to import US gas through a future LNG terminal in Croatia, thus lessening the dependence on Russian gas.

    A lot of us in Hungary do love the US and we will always respond positively every time we feel a positive impulse is coming towards us from the US.

  5. @Webber: “Am I the only one who remembers how they treated Ambassador Nancy Goodman Brinker? There were also press attacks (in Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hirlap) against Ambassadors Foley and Kounalakis. Both are women.”

    (1) Are you sure about attacks on Foley and Kounalakis? Foley loved and still loves Fidesz. She is on the board of Fellegi’s organization (Friends of Hungary). Kunalakis was not exactly tough on the Fidesz government and therefore they had little reason to hate her..

    (2) Nancy Goodman Brinker is another matter. The right hated her. I always wondered whether that had something to do with the fact that she is Jewish. The same may apply to Goodfriend.

  6. a lot of words, its normal that a new ambassador puts flowers on the statue of the unknown soldier, is looking at the minoreties of the country she will be working for the next years.
    That means she is trying to take part of the history of hungary. thats here job.
    Then again a lot of words about the realationship vs hu. and the old ambassador.he left. During his appointment he was confront with, mediaintolerence from the hungary goverment, he was confront with corruption, he was confronted with rascisme.
    That is still standing. And i am sure the new ambassodor will have those files on her desk.
    So think about the unknown soldiers who died collaberating with hiltlers regime. she puts flowers for theme, thats something to think about.

  7. In Holland they reported not about Hungary and Putyin (Putin), but about the meeting in Brussels about the Euro and Greece today, about the promises Putyin made to Greece, as well as the invitation of the Greek PM to Moscow on the 9th of May.

    A journalist, Russian expert and historian Wierd Duk wrote some nice pieces on this subject (in Dutch):

    http://politiek.thepostonline.nl/2015/02/16/poetins-griekse-bruggenhoofd-de-doegin-connectie/
    http://politiek.thepostonline.nl/2014/09/29/terreur-rusland-de-bomaanslagen-op-flatgebouwen-1999/

  8. Brinker was quite openly pro-“left wing” (ie, anti-FIDESZ). I do not attribute the hostility to her religion.

  9. NWO: Nancy Brinker was appointed by George W (she was a bundler for W), it’s ridiculous to think that she was pro-left wing.

  10. Ambassdor Bell will play nice to the Hungarian government as long as Fidesz continues to constrain its crooked bureaucratic apparatus from attempting to extort US firms and provides no real material assistance to Putin. By material assistance I mean actively blocking scantions on Russia rather than just complaining about their impact on the Hungarian economy.

    The entire discussion about illiberal democracy that took place while Goodfriend was acting ambassador was strategic in nature and may or may not continue. Petro Poroshenko in Ukaine objectively is not dramatically different than PM Orban on many issues, For example Petro Poroshenko argued during the Orange Revolution that decisions to reduce executive powers were wrong because a strong office of the president would ensure that the much-needed radical reforms which have really still not happened. Poroshenko embraced the corrupt Yanukovych. Poroshenko is also quite close to the Russian Orthodox Church, and when in 2007 he was banned from entering Russia, the Moscow Patriarchate wrote letters to Putin in his support. So ideologically there is nothing wrong with Orban that isn’t wrong with Poroshenko, except Orban issues various attacks against the EU periodically.

    I do not see any evidence in Ambassador Bell’s background particularly in her roots in the northern suburbs of Chicago that she has a deep interest in either political science or international affairs. Her interests have focused on the media and she effectively inherited a day time soap opera franchise that she has managed to keep viable for years. The issue of the evolution of Fidesz towards the Eurasian union of Putin may be outside the normal analytic framework of Bell and we will have to see how she learns to comprehend this process as it evolves during her tenure in Budapest.

  11. @PL
    “Goodfriend’s name came to symbolize hatred for Hungarians”

    You somehow missen an adjective here, let me help you:

    “Goodfriend’s name came to symbolize hatred for corrupt Hungarians”

    Much better and even true, as opposed to your version!
    Don’t you think?

  12. PETOFI: Contrary to the belief of the average Hungarian, who is tough a few wise proverbs since childhood, such as “Beggars cooks with water.”, Hungary in NOT a poor country and it does not have to be poor. It had and still have highly qualified people, except they are not utilized well. Hungarians could do much, much better.
    A country’s wealth is the people, the knowledge base of the people, and it is made by its people, regardless of the amount natural resources, energy providers they are blessed with.
    Good examples: Switzerland, Denmark, Luxembourg, Finland, Holland, Japan, South Korea, etc.
    Bad examples: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazkhstan, quite a few African nations, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Argentina, etc.
    I hope I don’t have to detail out why, the country’s wealth is the results of the quality and value of the work of its people and not the amount of physical riches, such as Gold and Diamond as in South Africa or oil and gas as in the Arab countries and Russia.
    North America is only as wealthy, as the people make it. Yes we live in a dream, but anyone can and should dream and work on it, so some of it becomes reality.
    This is why in my opinion, the greatest crime of the Fidesz/KDNP/Jobbik is reducing the quality of the education, the social net and subsidies, thereby robbing future generations of success and the dreams of the people for a better life.
    I am sure we can agree on the fact, that in a capitalist economic system (and all others) it is not the manual laborers get rich and live well, but the owners. The earnings of the workers are generally based on the value of goods they can produce.

  13. Miki: We can all agree perhaps on this.
    The US CANNOT be responsible for seriously meddling, directly in EU countries internal politics, all the EU countries would be offended, rightfully so. Therefore it is within the EU, that the political influences they feel necessary, be used to steer their members back to the common values, IF possible.
    Hungarians are brainwashed again, since the anti-Semitic writer Mr. Csurka and MIÉP (and NO, Mr. Csurka should NOT R.I.P.) to be anti-US, but they are traditionally in friendly terms or rather, they will tolerate intervention by the Germans.
    So Mr. Orban is Angela Merkel’s puppy.
    The US will give a few morsels of info, but let Angela handle the Genius of Felcsút, Alcsút and the lands between.

  14. @Hegyi: Quoting encyclopedias does not mean that you understand what it contains. it is like reading the full manual of how a manual transmission in a car works, then get in the car and try to drive it. Likely you will burn the clutch and not move to far. That is Hungary (and you). Everyone understand the concepts, admires the benefits, jealous on the highway for all the driver who passes, but runs back for the bicycle because even wit the automatic cars they have trouble with. The concept my friend is not enough.

  15. PL: You are a Fidesz demagog. Everything you write is a total lie and fabrication. Your place is in jail, for being an accessory and being in complicity with the criminals and robber who are destroying Hungary.

  16. @PL

    “Goodfriend’s name came to symbolize […] violation of the Vienna Convention […]”

    In what way got the Vienna Convention violated? Which convention? I’m guessing the one about the diplomatic relation. Who violated who and how?

    I suggest you get used to the fact that foreigners do have opinion about your beloved government and that may not be favorable.

  17. My take in Goodfriend’s departure is that three factors were involved:

    On the one hand, when there is a change of guard, the one who held down the position of CEO and the incoming CEO in virtually all cases both prefer a clean slate within the organization and a single power base under the new CEO. I would suggest that Goodfriend was smart enough to initiate his departure, and that Bell was likewise smart enough to accept it, with some relief. The expectation of Hungarian left-liberals that Goodfriend would stay on was naive wishful thinking based in ignorance of normal organizational practice.

    The second factor was that although Goodfriend was at all times acting under the instructions of the State Department, over time State realized that direct involvement of the (acting) Head of Mission in activities with and on behalf of a highly fragmented and minuscule left-liberal opposition was not going to change anything on the ground, in fact it was rapidly becoming counter-productive. The Moor has done his duty, the Moor can go. My take on the situation is that Goodfriend has initiated his departure after intensive consultation with his bosses at State back in Washington.

    The third factor was that the Hungarian Government no doubt conveyed a willingness to change its attitude to the United States, subject to the removal of Goodfriend, an irritant, and a Jewish irritant at that, whose presence and activities in Budapest was making it difficult to improve relations with the United States. The State Department then weighed up the pros and cons, and came to the conclusion that it would indeed be in the American national interest to remove this irritant, and see what Bell can come up with. This was then no doubt conveyed to Goodfriend in the nicest possible way, to encourage him to take the initiative and immediately depart from Budapest.

  18. What does this report in VS mean? is it reliable? It says that the Hungarian govt is very unhappy about the visit of Putin but they had no other choice.

    Maga a kormányfő sem tartja szerencsésnek, hogy Budapestre jön Vlagyimir Putyin, de nem volt más választása

    „Nem örülök neki, hogy most jön, de az oroszok egyértelművé tették, hogy ha kedvező feltételekkel akarunk új gázszerződést kötni, akkor most fogadnunk kell”

    http://vs.hu/kozelet/osszes/megvan-miket-irhat-ala-a-rettegett-talalkozon-orban-es-putyin

  19. I seem to have seen in one of the comments a reference to Jewishness as religion, but now can’t find where.

    This is just a quick note to inform y’all that Jewishness is first and foremost an ethnicity. Some Jews practice one or another form of Judaism, some don’t.

    One can change religion, as many Jews have done in the past, moving between various Jewish denominations or sects, or moving out of Judaism altogether, to embrace Christianity, or for that matter the secular religion of Communism.

    On the other hand, one cannot change one’s ethnicity: whether one likes it or not, one is stuck with it for life.

  20. @ruph
    “- Don’t listen to what I say, but watch what I do!” – sounds familiar?
    Still the same Viktor Orbán, no doubt.

    Apparently its getting a bit too uncomfortable in the role as Putin’s little lapdog and now trying to smoothen the ruffled soul of his believers at least.

    All the others well aware of what’s going on, anyway.

  21. @The truth
    February 16, 2015 at 4:15 am

    Totally irrelevant, slanted and incomplete encyclopedic information. Historical tid-bits with no relevance to matters actually at hand.

  22. So, there’s tha’ price what makes Orbán piss on his very own “Fundamental Law” as well as a best part of the whole nation!
    Hungarians, that is!

    Just look at these newly taken images:

    7722119_1b946af08597d7f821e5e374093d7d99_wm.jpg

    7730947_b0e354f26e1fae5d199157ac4ee979a6_x.jpg

    To those few lucky enough have nothing to do with the language (either), those granit obelisks with the five pointed red stars praising the heroes who died by “fighting against the counter-revolution” – in 1956…

    Basically I have no drudge with dead soldiers even if they fought of a wrong reason – hardly their choice where to die and for what cause, – but the memorials erected by the living ones, you see!

    Been restored with loving car to it’s original glory, in order to further emphasise the “Never Ending Great Soviet-Hungarian Friendship” – as we learned once.

    Or, – as a contemporary reference – the truly spineless nature of the Hungarian Prime Minister, the name Viktor Orbán, for the account.

    There is an article explaining the details too, be my guest and make up your minds ladies and gentlemen all by yourselves.

    http://index.hu/belfold/2015/02/16/tele_van_terfigyelokkel_a_megujult_szovjet_parcella/

  23. Orban wants to sign the gas supply agreement.

    He is planning to commit Hungary to even more – expensive – Russian gas, because this way MET Ag in which he owns a portion according to all industry people can continue to make that circa EUR 250 million net profit per year via that license he himself granted to MET.

    That’s all that counts, everything else is just bulls**t.

    No, nobody will sign anything, yes, he will sign, but it’s not urgent, no, he didn’t say anything about signing etc. etc. — all BS, Orban will sign and commit.

  24. @latefor
    February 15, 2015 at 9:31 pm

    The real issue is not what happened 70 years ago, but the all-pervasive and very hurtful grass-roots antisemitism of the Hungarian street TODAY (as well as that of significant segments of the media), which – among others – is hot to trot to try to deny, minimize, bagatellize, relativize and indeed to somehow justify what happened 70 years ago.

    This is what sticks in the craw of Jews and prompts them to bring up incessantly the Hungarian responsibility for the Hungarian Holocaust. To me at least this seems an entirely natural reaction under the circumstances.

    If there was none of this hurtful, all-pervasive grass-roots antisemitism on the Hungarian street, I can confidently assure you that there would neither be this incessant bringing up this issue of national responsibility for the Hungarian Holocaust.

    I personally regret very much that this impacts you unfairly as a non-antisemitic non-Jewish Hungarian.

  25. Today’s demonstration seems relatively small compared to those before the holidays. Several thousand at most from what I can tell.

  26. Istvan, there was no buzz whatsoever about this demonstration. Unless there’s some new political development (scandal), I don’t think many people would go out.

  27. @Mike Balint – I understand what you say, but surely it has to be a solution to this on going name calling and blaming game. Hungarians going against Hungarians? Us and them? How crazy is this? Where is this going to lead to? To a Civil War between Jews and Christians? In Hungary, in the middle of Europe? I believe that hearts should be opened on both sides. What are the religious leaders doing about this?
    Only LOVE could solve this madness, nothing else! No more excuses, P L E A S E!

  28. @latefor
    February 16, 2015 at 4:53 pm

    I think you are addressing the wrong party in this. Your plea should instead be addressed to the Hungarian antisemites who keep this issue alive. Unfortunately they form the overwhelming majority of Hungarians, both in Hungary and in the Hungarian diaspora, and both historically and currently. Hungarian Jews would be only too happy if they didn’t have to contend with any of this crap on a daily basis. On the other hand, the days are well and truly gone when Jews would meekly turn the other cheek, lie down and let the antisemites walk all over them. This is a different world today, and that just won’t happen any more.

    By the way, how can I contact the Hungarian poetry circle in Melbourne? I too love Hungarian poetry.

    :-))

  29. @latefor
    February 16, 2015 at 4:53 pm

    Re “What are the religious leaders are doing about this?”

    The Prince Primate Cardinal Péter Erdő, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Hungary, and the late Neolog Chief Rabbi of Hungary, Professor Dr. József Schweitzer, had cultivated a close and respectful friendship with one another, and made many attempts within their respective flocks to lessen the tensions between Hungarian Jews and non-Jews.

    And the leadership of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Congregations (MAZSIHISZ), as also the leadership of the lubavicher Chabad hasid movement in Hungary (an American-based Jewish orthodox sect), Rabbis Boruch Oberlander and Shlomo Köves, are all doing their very best, day-by-day, to lessen those tensions.

    Unfortunately to no avail.

    The reason for that you will find in my entry above at Mike Balint, February 16, 2015 at 2:25 pm.

    The fact is that religion has ceased to be the basic grudge against the Jews for well over a hundred years now, and antisemitism has mutated into a purely ethnic hate, albeit buttressed in some cases by traditional Christian Judeophobia.

    So, whatever religious leaders do or don’t do about reconciliation between Hungarian Jew and Hungarian Christian unfortunately makes precious little difference on the ground, because the nature of the conflict is no longer religious, but ethnic.

    And as I said, the conflict is being kept alive by Hungarian antisemites, a matter that Hungarian Jews can do precious little about, apart from attempts at self-defense.

    And the reason that Hungarian Jews cannot do anything about Hungarian antisemitism is that antisemitism, like religion or ideology, is on the one hand a tremendously deep-rooted part of the Hungarian antisemite’s own sense of identity, and on the other hand it, like religion or ideology, is by definition a matter of sincerely held deep belief, thus totally impervious to rational reasoning.

    I don’t know if you can understand how unfair and insulting it is when you put an equation sign between Hungarian Jew and Hungarian antisemite, like there was equal culpability in keeping this conflict going.

    What I can confidently assure you of, however, is that that Hungarian Jews have absolutely no interest in either initiating or continuing this conflict: their position is purely reactive and defensive.

    As I already said, they would be only too happy if they did not have to contend with this crap on a daily basis.

  30. Dear Mike Balint,
    Unfortunately, I have to think about my answer to your comment……you see, it’s not easy to accept this ongoing belting on a daily bases…believe it or not, even non-Jews have feelings and I find it very difficult to cope with this ongoing HATE between Jews and non-Jews. I’ll get back to you when I’ll calm down. Best regards to you.

  31. @latefor
    February 16, 2015 at 11:41 pm

    Please understand that there is no hate on the part of Hungarian Jews, only some understandable reactions to mindless hate. A big difference. That is why it is neither right nor fair to lump together the Hungarian Jew with Hungarian antisemite in one bracket, as though both were equally culpable for the situation that rightly distresses you.

  32. @latefor
    February 16, 2015 at 11:41 pm

    And one more point.

    If you genuinely disagree with the basic tenets of Hungarian antisemitism, there is absolutely no reason for you to take “this ongoing belting on a daily basis” personally and to heart (by “ongoing belting” you presumably mean some of the more grating Hungarian Jewish reactions to ongoing Hungarian antisemitism).

    Please understand that those Hungarian Jewish reactions are not directed at you at all, and are not meant for you. So, if the shoe does not fit, don’t wear it, or as they say in Hungarian: akinek nem inge, ne vegye magára.

    I have a very close friend in Hungary whose forebears all came from the lesser nobility (kisnemesek), who is just as distressed as you are about the situation, but instead of trying to blame Hungarian Jews for it, or at least blame them in equal measure with Hungarian antisemites, she does not hesitate to sheet home the blame to where it really belongs. Her conscience is completely clear on this issue, and no, she does not take personally or to heart Hungarian Jewish reactions to Hungarian antisemitism, however raucous they might seem at times. In fact, she mostly agrees with them. Admittedly, she is a rarity in Hungary.

    Of course it is another matter altogether if you don’t actually disagree with at least some of the tenets of Hungarian antisemitism.

    If that were the case, i can only repeat that the days are well and truly gone when Jews would meekly turn the other cheek, lie down and let the antisemites walk all over them. This is a different world today, and that just won’t happen any more.

    Anyway, whenever you are confronted with what you feel is an inappropriate and uncalled-for rubbing in the crime of the Hungarian Holocaust, I think that a measured and dignified response is your best course.

    You don’t loose anything and gain only tremendous respect by conceding that yes, the Hungarian Holocaust was a monumental crime committed by the Hungarian State with enthusiastic participation by most Hungarians, many of whom became beneficiaries of looted Jewish property. But that was then, and this is now, and this generation of Hungarians is not to be blamed, even by implication, for actions by their forebears three generations ago. Now the task is to combat the vicious grass-roots antisemitism of the Hungarian street, and to counter all attempts to to deny, minimize, bagatellize, relativize and indeed to somehow justify what happened 70 years ago.

    if you react in these terms, you will not only feel good, but have done the right thing and will be respected for it.

  33. flint,

    You wrote: “Turning to the opposition for help (an unusual step as the blogger says), clearly signals that Hungary is serious about improving relations further.”

    Another possibility is that the government would like to appear to be serious about that, which I think is the more likely scenario. Orbán does very little that actually reveals his true intentions, in my opinion.

  34. @PL

    “I am very happy that Goodfriend left Hungary.”

    Well, that bit I can accept.

    “Goodfriend’s name came to symbolize hatred for Hungarians, contempt for rules and norms, intervention into domestic affairs, violation of the Vienna Convention, taking sides in internal Hungarian politics and arrogance in dealing with Hungarians.”

    Whatever Andre Goodfriend’s negative characteristics may or may not be, contemptuousness and arrogance certainly do not feature on the list: indeed, a more respectful, courteous and considered diplomat you would be hard-pressed to find.

    ‘Hatred’ towards Hungarians? Frankly, you must have a serious inability to understand normal human discourse, PL: the allegation is preposterous, and totally without foundation.

    If the story relating to Maria Schmidt has a basis in truth at all, I do not believe it to be true in the way it is told. From personal observation (albeit limited), it is simply not in his character to behave in the way described. (What Prof. Schmidt perceived in her own mind, and believes to be true, could well be another matter.)

    That, of course, does not make Mr. Goodfriend a soft touch – far from it. He is a keen, loyal professional, out to do his duty.

    Looking at your allegations again, however, the irony is that I find most of them quite fitting to describe members of a certain government whose seat is not a million miles from Kossuth ter, Budapest V – are you sure you have not mixed up two posts you were typing yesterday, and pasted this into the Goodfriend message by mistake?

  35. @PL (presumably, P….ovics L., right?) What is the right wing version of the neologism “libtard”? Perhaps “conserv-o-tard”? Presumably, it depends on whether you are actively trolling or just an ignorant blowhard setting up your own conflicts and answering your own questions, and projecting your phobias and pathological constructions into the mouths and thoughts of others. Post communist Hungary – through efforts beginning with Sandor Csoori and the MDF in 1990, leading to Csurka and MIEP, finally inherited and honed by FIDESZ and Jobbik, has earned a reputation for antisemitic, anti-Jewish rhetoric and discrimination in the late 20th century, not to mention a bad habit of dodging responsibility for the Nation’s participation in the Holocaust. Hungary is not unique in this, but most modern – and I stress the term ‘modern’ – European nations recognize that scapegoating Jews (or immigrants, or gays, or Roma) is no longer a desirable way to win support or sympathy within a democratic Europe. You may as well ask why Black people in the USA are still sensitive about slavery… (“Why aren’t they over it by now?”)

    I am sure you want to raise your hand and have Teacher call on you so you can say “But we have an excuse! We suffered more than anybody! There was Trianon! And Bela Kun was a Jew! And we didn’t like the Communist period!” I am sure everybody would like to devote time to hear your excuses. They are lining up as we speak, I am sure.

    So how did Goodfriend show his “hatred” of Hungary? By calm diplomacy? By bipartisanship, listening to both sides? The man was a paid, professional diplomat, not some reality TV bimbo like the crowd of sycophants surrounding our PM. For FIDESZ and Orban every conflict and disagreement is personal. What FIDESZ could not grasp about Goodfriend was that he was a professional – a category unknown to them – and that for a professional diplomat the issue is never personal, but professional. It was not a personal pissing match between Orban (“come out like a man, Goodfriend!”) and the US Charge D’affaires. Goodfriend won that round by default.

    Latefor: Civil war between the Jews and the Christians? How pathetic are you willing to get? Are you kidding me?

  36. Eva,

    Do you agree with Mike Balint’s assertion that the Hungarian Holocaust involved “enthusiastic participation by most Hungarians”? I think this is over the top, as my understanding is that most Hungarians were involved only passively, by allowing it to happen, and quite a few tried to resist it.

    Maybe my perspective is colored by having never lived outside Budapest, but I feel that Mike Balint is being unfair, as usual.

  37. @Googly re Holocaust. Yes, Mike Balint exaggerates. Most Hungarians just did nothing. Perhaps many of them did not mind the departure of their Jewish compatriots but it is incorrect to talk about enthusiastic support by the majority.

  38. Just as in Nazi-reigned Germany – the vast majority did nothing …
    And when some tried to react it was too late – at least for a large part of the victim groups, whether Jews, gays, Communists, Roma or just severely handicapped people.
    You probably read or at least heard of pastor Niemöller’s “poem”:
    When they came …
    So in the end doing nothing is almost as bad as participating in evil!

  39. Eva:
    When I was in senior high school in Budapest, we had to watch a Russian documentary movie (and I watched it three times) with a title “The Everyday Fascism”. I was shocked by the Holocaust and the deeds of the Arrowcross Party which was led by Szálasi and his gang.
    At home we did not talk much about the Holocaust, I never heard a bad word about Jews, I did not even knw which of my classmates were jews, we were not raise with prejudice in the early 60’s.

    Viewing the movie, I did not understand, how could the people just watch, how their neighbors are taken away to be slaughtered on the banks of the Danube, their hands and feet tied together with barbed wire, mothers, children, fathers, relatives, so even, if they were not mortally wounded, they would drown in the river. Such cruelty and inhumanity filled me with horror ever since.
    I asked my grandparents then, how could they allow it? Why did they not fight, why did they allow this to be done the their friends, neighbors, or anyone for that matter.

    I never got a satisfactory answer. My grandparents, my parents and everyone, who lived in those days, including jewish people who survived and they did not do anything, could not explain to me, why they just watched and did not even protest.

    I have friends her and in Israel, who were taken to the Danube to be shot and were either saved by a good soul, old policeman, who was not Arrowcross or because of the bombing or for other circumstance, the slaughter was halted for a few hours. So I know what happened from eyewitnesses also.

    But I will quote from the Eichmann court papers here and about Hungarian enthusiasm.
    ===============
    “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.

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