Surprisingly little appeared in the Hungarian media about Attila Mesterházy’s official visit to Washington. I found mention of it only in Népszava a few days ago, and today a short article appeared in Népszabadság that summarized the seven-member MSZP delegation’s week in the United States.
On the other hand, Magyar Nemzet is always vigilant. On January 24 it picked up MTI’s interview with Mesterházy and described the trip this way: “Attila Mesterházy again ran to Washington.” Gabriella Selmeczi, the Fidesz spokeswoman, woke up a bit late, only after Attila Mesterházy’s interview had appeared in The Wall Street Journal the day before. Her comments were predictable: Mesterházy is again trying to discredit Hungary abroad. In addition, according to her, the socialists favor banks over their own citizens and foreign companies over Hungarian ones. Such accusations almost always resonate with the nationalist Hungarian right.
Interestingly enough, I could find no other mention of this trip to Washington and New York although the available information indicates that it was a very successful visit for MSZP’s party leader.
On the first day, January 22, the Hungarian delegation, made up of younger socialists in their thirties, had a meeting with Madeleine Albright, U.S. secretary of state between 1993 and 1997, and two ranking members of the National Democratic Institute. NDI is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that has supported democratic institutions all over the world in the last twenty-five years. Specifically, they want to strengthen political and civic organizations, safeguard elections, and promote citizen participation, openness and accountability in government. Albright is the chair of NDI. Kenneth D. Wollack, president, and Robert Benjamin, senior associate and regional director of Central and East European programs, were also present at the meeting that lasted more than an hour.
The next day Mesterházy gave a lecture in the headquarters of the German Marshall Fund. According to the MSZP press release (a biased source, naturally) there was great interest in what Mesterházy had to say. Among those who attended were members of the diplomatic corps, representatives of various U.S. government departments, businessmen, university professors, and Hungarian Americans. Mesterházy concentrated on MSZP’s plans for the future. There were many questions about the economy and the new electoral law. One of the members of the delegation was Csaba Kákosy, former minister of economics and transportation, who was actually nominated for the job in 2007 by SZDSZ but who is now economic adviser to MSZP. The title of the MSZP press release was “Washington is looking forward to a new beginning.” Surely, an optimistic reaction to a couple of days that the participants felt were a success.
On the day of the American inauguration, the socialists had extensive discussions with some campaign advisers to the Democratic Party. MTI reported this piece of news, but I found no broader coverage of it in the Hungarian media. The discussions centered around Internet communication, data-base building, opinion polls, and mobilization of the electorate. The release indicates that the socialists will not rely exclusively on Ron Werber but most likely will also hire advisers who were active in the Obama campaign.
In addition, Mesterházy and his fellow socialists met with the staff of the State Department who have a special interest in Hungary and the region in general, including Tomicah Tillemann, special adviser to the secretary of state, who is the grandson of the late Tom Lantos. Mesterházy also had a long conversation with Charles Gati, a professor at Johns Hopkins University. And the delegation had talks with the appropriate officials of the United States Holocaust Museum.
After leaving Washington, the socialist delegation visited New York where they had a meeting with the top officials of Freedom House, which was set up to support human rights and democracy, promote open government, defend human rights, strengthen civil society, and facilitate the free flow of information and ideas. Hungarians know Freedom House best for its yearly reports on media freedom.
After all of the official meetings, the socialist delegation “kicked back” with a group of about twenty Hungarian-Americans who have been getting together for dinner and conversation in the same restaurant for the past twenty-five years. The place used to serve Hungarian food but by now it is a Chinese restaurant. Included in the group were university professors, researchers, and managers. For more than two hours they discussed the economy, the student demonstrations, and the electoral law. The hosts were especially interested in the renewal of MSZP.
And now a few words about Mesterházy’s interview with The Wall Street Journal. From it we can glean more details of the socialist party chief’s conversations with officials in Washington and New York. Mesterházy apparently told the Americans that the socialists want to bring “the country back to a path of sustainable development.” He emphasized that “the party wants to clarify the separation of powers among the legislature, executive and judicial branches; restore authority removed from the Constitutional Court; ensure the independence of the central bank; expand press freedoms; and strengthen the country’s budget watchdog agency.” He pledged while in the United States that the socialists would “act swiftly and decisively to restore international trust in [Hungary’s] economy.” He also emphasized his intention to work together with former Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai as well as other “democratic” opposition groups. “I now see an almost 100% chance for an alliance to be formed.”
Mesterházy also pledged that the socialists would reduce the heavy banking-sector taxes levied by the Orbán government and thus free banks from their onerous financial burden so they could lend more readily. He also stated that “the war against foreign-owned companies must cease.” These are the remarks that prompted Gabriella Selmeczi to accuse the socialists of putting the interests of banks above those of ordinary citizens.
From what I heard from friends who met the socialists in Washington and New York, Mesterházy’s trip to the United States was a great success. Too bad that so little was said about it in the Hungarian media.