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.”

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129 comments

  1. I think we can separate the actions of Arrow Cross and Nationalist bastards like Sztójay, Baky, and Jaross from the mass of twelve million Hungarians who were simply standing around stunned and starving in the winter of 1944. Can you keep your sense of fantasy rhetoric in check? They were not all busy packing Jews into boxcars.

    Yes, some were. But many millions were not. And zes, we Jewish descendants feel a bit put off by the fact that we now have to see Nyirő Andras on the required reading list and Wass Albert tér next to the Zuglo Ikea store.

    If anybody has ever taken advantage of the Hungarian people it is… other Hungarian people.

  2. @Mike Balint –“if you react in these terms, you will not only feel good, but have done the right thing and will be respected for it”

    Why do I have the feeling that you are “coaching” me how to react?

    You also say: “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.”

    Believe it or not, these were my my almost exact words about five years ago when I got involved into commenting on some anti-Semitic sites on You-tube in the defence of Jews. You see, things are never what they seem. But I’m also a non-Jewish Hungarian, who happen to love Hungary and the Hungarians and I find it difficult to watch what’s happening there between Jews and non-Jews ( mostly in the media). Blaming game and endless provocations on both sides. “It takes two to tango”, as the saying goes. I also believe that solution to this problem can be easily achieved, it only requires clear thinking and wanting to change this ongoing blaming game, before it’s too late for Jews and non-Jews alike. The past cannot be changed, but we can all create a better future. Somehow I don’t believe that HATE will lead us to enlightenment.
    I guess I have to make a choice now: should I keep reading the Hungarian Spectrum (apart from the Hungarian media) and upset myself or should I just read The Economist if I want to get a balanced view from the Liberal point of view?

  3. Latefor: It ain’t about hate. The hate is only in your eyes and your rhetoric as a frame for your argument: ” They hate us, so they will not let us move on.” That is Big BS.

    That argument is your Straw Man. Most Jews (and this includes non-Hungarian Jews) see Hungary as part of a larger historical trend. When arguing about the Holocaust Jews tend to focus on the destruction of the whole of Europe’s Jews… not only the regional losses. But a Hungarian speaking about the Holocaust addresses only Hungary – and often in context of its modern connotations.

    And there you lose perspective. You lose it in details, you lose it in presumptions, and you lose it in your relentless repetition of arguments designed to frame the Jewish losses as an excuse for “hatred”… acknowledging the basis for resentment and then defining it as “hatred” to fit your political purpose.

    Ain’t you a political genius?

  4. I just want to announce that apparently tomorrow is D-Day. It is the day when we will be moving over to the new site. I was warned that there might be hiccups, so don’t panic. Some1 suggests that you make copies of your comments in case they disappear. But let’s hope that all will go smoothly.

  5. The transfer will happen any time during the 24-hour period starting at 5:00am Eastern (11:00am in Hungary) on Wednesday, February 18, 2015. Any comments that will be placed on the site at the time when the actual transfer will take place will likely disappear. How do you know if the transfer is complete? If you visit the site as usual but instead of https://hungarianspectrum.wordpress.com you will see http://www.hungarianspectrum.org you know that the transfer is complete. The transfer is done by WordPress to the same template, but some widgets may disappear until Eva can restore them. All Blog entries and comments will stay on the site (only the ones are at risk, you put up while the transfer is actually happening).

  6. @kave – “Ain’t you a political genius?”

    No, I’m just a “genetically inferior, bo gatyas Hungarian peasant” with a clear mind and a golden heart, who is sick of the ongoing name calling by some of the commentators on this site…and I’m sick of feeling guilty…and I’m sick of defending myself from off handed arrogance…. and I’m sick of your physiological torture.. and my glass is full! I guess we all have our breaking point! There you have it: ACTION – REACTION!

  7. @kave -” It ain’t about hate. The hate is only in your eyes and your rhetoric as a frame for your argument: ” They hate us, so they will not let us move on.” That is Big BS”

    Now here we are for the whole world to see: Now “hate” is turned on me, now I’m the guilty party! Your chutzpah knows no limits, unbelievable! What an arrogance! What a twisted mind! This time I’ll we have to speak to the local Rabbi to ease my mind! Unbelievable!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. @Eva S. Balogh
    February 17, 2015 at 3:20 pm

    Dear Éva

    In the matter of exaggeration, I would refer you to the following thoroughly researched source material:

    1.
    Randolph L. Braham. 1981. A A Magyar Holokauszt. Budapest: Gondolat.

    2.
    A Magyarországi Holokauszt Földrajzi Enciklopédiája. 2006. Eds. Randolph L. Braham, Zoltán Tibori Szabó. Budapest: Park Könyvkiadó.

    3.
    Gábor Kádár, Zoltán Vági. 2005. Hullarablás: A Magyar Zsidók Gazdasági Megsemmisítése. Budapest: Jaffa Kiadó.

    Best wishes
    Mike

  9. Latefor: Thanks for confirming that your published viewpoint was an expression of psychological instability and not one of political reflection.

  10. @latefor
    February 17, 2015 at 5:54 pm

    Good for you. I am impressed. :-))

    And yes, guilty as charged re “coaching” you. :-))

    It is just that I think that taking comments personally, taking them to heart and then having a fit about them is only going to get you unnecessarily upset. Take it easy, none of our comments really matter one way or another, it is only a game we play with one another, and if in the heat of the action this or that comment is more provocative than the limits of propriety would allow, the best is to respond with calm dignity.

    And yes, I also believe that reconciliation is both possible and desirable. However, i don’t think that it is Hungarian Jews who are blocking the way to reconciliation. And neither is official Hungary, by and large, although the Christian Nationalist right (Fidesz) is somewhat borderline in this respect.

    What really is blocking the way to reconciliation is the continuously ongoing all-pervasive, vicious grass-roots antisemitism on the Hungarian street, of which the National Socialists (Jobbik) are the political representatives, though of course the phenomenon and its manifestations are spread right across the political spectrum (mlost left-liberals excepted) and not at all restricted to just Jobbik’s electoral base or Hungarist, neo-fascist media outlets.

    Given the antisemitic provocations that Hungarian Jews are daily exposed to, how would you go about reconciliation if you were wearing their shoes? Have you any practical suggestions?

  11. @Kave “Latefor: Thanks for confirming that your published viewpoint was an expression of psychological instability and not one of political reflection.”

    With all due respect, I’d hate to disappoint you, but people like me, who come from a peasant stock (fresh air, organic vegies, surrounded with down to earth, uncomplicated people) do not usually suffer from psychological problems, however my hands are trembling at the moment as I’m finding it difficult to type on my PC. Unfortunately, the branch on the top of the tree is feeling very uncomfortable under my backside. If I hear the word: “anti-Semite” one more time, I’ll even climb higher and wait for our local extraterrestrial to take me for a round the moon trip. Can you see what you are doing to me? U i uaa u i uaa…: -)

    @Mike Balint, there is nothing I’d would really like to see more than reconciliation between Jews and Christians. Cheers!

  12. Just to underline the points made by Kave and Mike B:
    When I first came to politics.hu I was shocked to read some of the atrocious antisemitic remarks there – as well as by some of the homophobic, anti Roma etc postings.
    I hadn’t thought it possible, ok on some Nazi site (they exist in Germany too of course) but on a general political site?
    Now I’m almost used to them but I have categorised (aka put in special drawers) some of the regular correspondents and I know what to expect of them. And I also know that there are quite a few people (not only Hungarians …) around which believe in NWO, the power of Rotschild and Bilderbergers etc just to name a few of the standard points ….

  13. @Mike Balint. Professor Braham is a friend of mine and is a regular reader of this blog. He would be the first one to deny your claim. In fact, I will ask him his opinion.

  14. MIKE BALINT”
    “Take it easy, none of our comments really matter one way or another, it is only a game we play with one another, ……”
    Please go find other playmates and and play somewhere else. Ms. Eva S. Balogh and contributors are not paying for a sandbox for you to “play” in.
    Your comments are just weightless toys you want the readers play with.

  15. Mike Balint,

    You wrote: “It is just that I think that taking comments personally, taking them to heart and then having a fit about them is only going to get you unnecessarily upset.”

    You are one of the greatest hypocrites I have ever had the displeasure of encountering in my entire life.

  16. gybognarjr,

    Good quote from Eichmann’s trial. I agree, the authorities were eager to help the Nazis get rid of the Jews, that seems to not be in dispute. However, even now, the Hungarian police force does not represent a cross-section of Hungarian society. I am quite sure, based on hearsay and (very limited) personal experience, that Hungarian police, like police in every country I’ve been to, are far more conservative and intolerant of minorities than the rest of the citizenry. That’s not to say that they are all murderous racists, or even that the majority of them are, but definitely a far higher percentage. Of course, in the Eichmann situation, what mattered most was the attitude of the leadership of the police, certainly put into their positions over time by governments that also passed numerous anti-Jewish laws. Therefore, given that Hungary was essentially an autocracy during the decades preceding the war, and even more so once the war started, I would say that the police organisation reflected that.

  17. GOOGLY: The police and the authorities could only perform so well when the people are also very, very helpful.
    Quote: “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.”
    437,000 jews were deported in just 55 days! (8,000 per day, 24/7) But the private properties were robbed by common people, the houses, apartments, pianos, furniture were distributed amongst themselves.

    Would you take your neighbor’s furniture, or move into his/her apartment, house in similar circumstances, when you know, the family, including children are shipped to labor camps or to the Front line, to clear mine fields or froze to death or just shot on the street or on the banks of the Danube, or beaten to death by a teenager with the butt of his new and shiny gun.

    My great grandparents were taken away or killed without a trace (we never found out) and in three days, their grocery shop and their house above was stripped down to the curtain rods. NOTHING was left, the neighbors and other people took everything – NOT THE POLICE AND AUTHORITIES!!!
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    For the deeds of the politicians, police and authorities, all of the citizens are also responsible, even those, who suffer from it.

    We, the citizens voted and put them there, we the citizens keep their laws, restrictions and we the citizens don’t stand up and fight for our rights and dignity. We do it to ourselves, or let others do it to us. They are from among us, we let them operate, at will.

    Every citizens responsibility is to constantly watch the politicians and demand that they work openly, transparently and be accountable to us without exception and leave if they don’t do what we elected them for. Only we, the citizens can fight for a democracy in which we want to live in.

    DEMOCRACY IS NOT ORGANIZED BY A PREVIOUS AUTHORITARIAN GOVERNMENT WHOSE MEMBERS THEN SERVE IN THEIR NEW CREATION AND CALLING IT DEMOCRACY, WHILE THE CITIZENS WATCH THE CREATION OF A NEW SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT, PASSIVELY!
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    I was amazed in 1990-93 during my visits to Hungary and later to see the decline in the mood of the people by 1994-98. Many of my friends had enormous expectations and they were happy, that now they can live in Democracy.
    Democracy meant to them, that they can sell the Dacia and Trabant and buy a VW or Opel. Democracy meant to them, that they will use Tide and Cheer in the washing machines and brush their teeth with Colgate or Aquafresh, or they could dress the kids in Benetton colors.

    Most people were optimistic about the future, but in a short time it changed. Simply, because they did not want the responsibility that comes with democracy, to be responsible for the deeds of their politicians, authorities and the police, who got free hand and operated unchecked.

    A few people sold out half the country’s wealth and Billionaire were made in days.

    And today, we see the “boys” are the wealthiest and best paid people in Hungary, they have absolute power and they have a very well organized Kleptocracy and dictatorship. Anti-Semitism, gypsy hatred increased, now they arrest “economic immigrants” and they want to be 100% (homogenous) Hungarian National Christians, NOTHING ELSE. A homophobic, exclusively true Hungarian society is being promoted and created again. The results will be similar, as before.

    When will be the first Pogrom? Who they will pick on, the jews, gypsies, or other nationalities, the immigrant Chinese people’s shops?

  18. @googly
    February 18, 2015 at 10:03 am

    My views have changed in many respects since we had our row, thanks to the moderating influence of Éva’s blog and the comments following her entries. Looks like it is never too late to teach an old dog new tricks. I am ready to reconcile, if you are. If not, then so be it, it is your call.

  19. Why did Mike Balint misspoke? Why? Because he wants to open up his heart for reconciliation? Why? Because his not blaming the whole nation for the above-mentioned atrocities?

    I’ve just read the memoir of one of the most loved, respected, prominent and successful Hungarian Jew, living in Melbourne, Australia. His experiences were different form what I’m reading in here. I’d wish I had the book with me now to quote from it. (my girlfriend is reading it) In his village, the peasants saved his family’ belongings,( they even hid their furniture) and their gold collection, believe it or not and gave it back to him when he returned from the concentration camp. I’ve heard many similar stories like these over the years. In this light, I do not believe that ongoing generalisation about how bad Hungarians were is a fare assessment of the Hungarian society at that that time. They were good people and they were evil people. ((I will ask the author if I can quote from his book and I’ll get back to you).

  20. Mike Balint – As you can see, some of the commentators here do not like you to engage in a civilised conversation with my kind. I’m afraid, you have to change your tactics and start with the “belting”. God bless.

  21. @latefor
    February 18, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    Thank you, but I think this time it is you who are putting words in my mouth. 😊

    I concede of course that the question of collective guilt, whether in respect of the Holocaust or in respect of grass-roots antisemitism today, is indeed a very tricky and difficult one, as there are always counter-examples that one can point to. The real issue is whether those counter-examples in fact represent the rule, i.e. the way that the bulk of people behave(d), or that they are just the exceptions that prove the rule, i.e. that the bulk of the people behave(d) not so good or downright bad.

  22. @Mike Balint – I’m more than convinced that the majority of the peasants were like the ones in my above-mentioned story. They wouldn’t have known what to do with gold or anything valuable those days and I’m telling you this from my experience:
    My grandpa had found a large gold vase during his digging on his land, dated in the 1200’s…this was the 1960 and as a little girl, I remember that my grandparents placed it in the middle of the kitchen table and decided to give it to the Catholic Church. My grandpa said that he wouldn’t know what to do with it.

    I was back in Hungary last year and I was happy to see that in our village the church was nicely renovated and many notable people were mentioned on the wall, contributors etc. etc. but there was nothing said about my grandpa, even though he also donated his wine for years and years during the Communist system. (He was a wine grower and illegal schnapps maker) This was very disappointing for me as I’m sure the church has a record of this. (Sorry, I just had to get this off my chest).

  23. gybognarjr,

    You wrote: “The police and the authorities could only perform so well when the people are also very, very helpful.”

    No, a small minority of the people must be very, very helpful, and the remainder must do nothing or next to nothing, out of fear, apathy or whatever reason (these are the minimum conditions). For examples, see Nazi Germany or the Warsaw Pact countries during the Cold War. The communist secret police didn’t need very many informants, and virtually the entire population was kept subservient for decades.

    Don’t forget, the ground had been prepared for the holocaust for decades, so that almost all the Jews were assembled, ostracised, and cowed. The general populace had also been prepared, so that they weren’t entirely sure that there was anything wrong with what was to happen (Horthy allowed the countryside Jews to be shipped off, so it must not be so wrong). Then there were bigger things to think about, such as the shortages and the coming invasion of a very powerful, vengeful army, and the loss of so many young Hungarian men at the front. These are not excuses, Hungarians should definitely have done more, but they didn’t need to actively participate at significant levels.

    I find it interesting that you are still making this argument even after Eva specifically said that you and Mike Balint are wrong, and that historians have proven that most Hungarians were not directly involved in the Holocaust. I’ll believe her over you and Mike Balint any time, unless you come up with some compelling proof.

  24. Mike Balint,

    I have no desire to argue with you, and perhaps I misunderstood what you wrote, but it was infuriating to read your remark. If you insist that words have no power and mean nothing, so people shouldn’t get upset about them, then try to imagine the same words you used being used against Jews, as a group (not some small subset or whatever), or against you personally, without a basis in your actions. Stop tarring entire national groups of people with collective responsibility and evil intentions, or stop being upset when other people do it to you and your ethnic/religious/national group.

    If you did not mean to do that, then I apologise, and I will try to be less quick to judge you in the future. However, I think you can understand why I jumped to conclusions in this case.

Comments are closed.