checks and balances

Sándor Kerekes: Letter to Angela Merkel

Dear Chancellor Merkel:

I am impelled to write to you on the occasion of your impending visit to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary in February. I have no doubt that your able staff is more than adequately preparing your visit; however, I wish to add to that a point of view representing the Hungarian perspective.

Surely, you are aware that the government of PM Orbán and his Fidesz Party have relentlessly attacked and emasculated most institutions of the democratic state ever since their election in May 2010. But, just to keep up appearances, they have maintained them as a façade, populating them with their own appointees, often for nine and twelve-year terms, thus rendering them unable and unwilling to carry out their original, constitutional functions, since the appointees only follow Fidesz instructions. From the outside they look like checks and balances to the unsuspecting viewer. However, nothing could be further from the facts. All those institutions are interconnected through the invisible network of personal and party connections, all serving to promote the political and financial interests of a selected few of Viktor Orbán’s friends. In fact, those institutions are only there to serve as a disguise, hiding the actual operations of a government whose single and concentrated aim is to siphon as much of the country’s resources to the hands of this small coterie, as possible.

The street demonstrations of recent days mobilizing tens of thousands of people almost every other day, demanding democracy and fair government, are largely concerned with the ever-increasing corruption of the government. Those thousands are in dire need of help that could surely come from you Madame Chancellor. This monumental, institutional corruption is seemingly unassailable by the people, because Parliament, as the Prime Minister’s voting machine, legislates and legalizes the constant, obvious thievery. And as it so often happens, if a superficially constructed piece of legislation should prove insufficient to cover up the crime, either a subsequent retroactive law will bend the rules after the fact, or all complaints will be rejected or ignored by the Prosecutor’s Office. Since the election in 2010, not one single corruption case was launched against any corrupt government official, despite the numerous cases submitted. It is not surprising; therefore, if many consider the government of Viktor Orbán as a well-functioning Mafia operation.

The presently concluded contract with Vladimir Putin’s Russia for the building and financing of the Paks 2 nuclear power plant is hugely disadvantageous to Hungary and yet a most rational pact in view of the rapacious corruption system. The contract includes a 20% Hungarian share in the financing – 2.5 billion Euros – that is available for stealing. Since the Hungarian state otherwise has run out of sources for available money to steal, this gigantic project will provide a copious source of corruption money for the coterie. At the same time, it may bankrupt the country, but by the time that will become clear, this Mafia will be long gone.

Under these circumstances, even the government of the United States raised a strenuous complaint and took the unprecedented step of banning certain government officials from its territory for reasons of corruption. At the same time, the United States government made it clear that it will not shirk from the confrontation, and insists that the Hungarian government must address the systemic corruption. So far, Viktor Orbán has resorted to lies, denial, and communications trickery, but taken no action.

Apart from some prestige projects, such as football stadiums and municipal beautifications, public investments ground to a halt years ago. Private capital is fleeing the country. If there is any investment at all in Hungary today, it is funded by European Union transfer money. In fact, over 90% of all public investment projects are financed by the European Union. But invariably, those projects are “one-off” short term ones that create neither lasting effect, nor permanent jobs for people. In fact, all that European Union financing is squandered on useless, short-term veneer, merely creating appearances and an opportunity for kickbacks. Presently, any government public bidding process is tailor-made for the single, Orbán-friendly bidder, and the general consensus is that the “usual” kickback is between 20 and 40%. Despite all this, the Orbán government is conducting an unrelenting verbal and political campaign against the European Union, the United States and most of all the ideals of liberal democracy.

The barren Hungarian puszta

The barren Hungarian puszta

When the European Parliament commissioned the Tavares Report, it was assumed in good faith that the problems of the Orbán Government were mere mistakes and with the help of the Report itself, with some good advice, and genteel prodding, the system could be corrected. Today it is clear that the Orbán government is by no means acting in good faith. In fact, the Tavares Report failed to recognize that Hungary is rapidly and intentionally sliding towards a one-party, single-ruler, authoritarian, illiberal regime. The Report was to no avail; the Hungarian government not only ignored it, but also legislated its rejection. All this was done in front of the uncaring eyes of the European Union.

While the officials and friends of the Orbán government are getting obviously and obscenely rich, the population of the country is sliding into deep poverty. Today, four million people are living under the poverty level, hundreds of thousands are starving and tens of thousands of children cannot get enough to eat. Poverty today is endemic in Hungary and it is increasing. Over the last four years, 500,000 of the mobile, enterprising people of Hungary have emigrated to other countries in the European Union, Germany amongst them.

Not wanting to extend needlessly the list of reasons for writing this letter, I wish to come to the obvious implications.

Hungary today is a disturbing foreign object in the very middle of the European Union. But because its transformation, running counter to everything European, is far from complete, it is likely that in the future she will be a cause for much more, and much more painful headaches within the European Union. The process of transformation is accelerating unbridled, and Hungary will be a source of an unhealthy inspiration, inviting any self-appointed tin-pot dictator to repeat the exercise: build an illiberal, single-ruler dictatorship and do it at the expense of the European Union. Why not? Nobody is raising any objections and the money keeps flowing to finance the process.

Madame Chancellor:

The interest of the European Union, the people of Hungary, and basic common sense dictate to submit to you the humble request that you, a dominant person in the European Union and in the World, give an unmistakable expression of disapproval to Mr. Orbán about what is happening in Hungary. It is inconceivable, and yet a strange fact of life, that the European Union and its citizenry should generously finance Hungary’s corruption, its war against Western Values and Mr. Orbán’s campaign against the people of his own country. Why should the European Union pour billions of Euros into a few people’s pockets, just to enable them to steal even more?

The suspension or denial of the transfer payments would bring the insane policies of the Orbán government to a screeching halt since nothing but these payments keeps it going.

The European Union, on the other hand, would greatly benefit from saving those billions by using them for more worthy purposes than stuffing the pockets of a corrupt regime that uses them as an opportunity to conduct a surreptitious anti-European, anti-liberal, people-busting war in peace time.

Dear Madame Chancellor:

I fervently hope that my suggestions coincide with your own intentions, and that your highly anticipated visit to Hungary will bring the beneficial results most of us are hoping for. It would be a bitter disappointment for the entire country if Prime Minister Orbán could in any way interpret your visit as a public relations success and a stamp of approval on his policies.

Very truly yours,

Sándor Kerekes

—-

Sándor Kerekes is a freelance journalist whose articles regularly appear in Kanadai Magyar Hírlap. He also wrote several articles in the past for Hungarian Spectrum.

Advertisements

Viktor Orbán and László Kövér on the warpath against Washington

While we were snooping around in Felcsút and downtown Budapest over the weekend, Viktor Orbán and his old pal from college days, László Kövér, were working hard to make American-Hungarian relations even worse than they already are.

The offensive started with a letter that László Kövér addressed to American Vice President Joe Biden. In it he complained about Senator John McCain’s speech in the Senate, in which McCain called Viktor Orbán “a neo-fascist dictator.” McCain with this unfounded statement “violated the sovereignty of Hungary.” The lack of respect McCain showed toward one of the leaders of the trans-atlantic alliance is unacceptable, said Kövér. But, he continued, McCain’s outburst is not just the single misstep of an ill-informed senator but “a brutal manifestation of a process which is becoming evident by the statements, gestures, behavior of government officials and persons who are in contact with the Hungarian government.” Kövér in the letter asked Biden to use his influence to temper the statements of government officials. In plain English, Kövér demanded a change in U.S. policy toward Hungary.

Kövér’s letter to Biden was followed by a Sunday interview with an MTI reporter in which Kövér expressed the same opinion, but even more forcefully than in his letter. From the Hungarian government’s perspective, American-Hungarian relations can be improved only by a change in U.S. policy. Hungary is an innocent victim, and therefore its government has no intention of changing its current posture in either foreign or domestic affairs. In this interview he actually accused the United States of playing a concerted “geopolitical game”  in which the U.S. “is using us, the Czechs, the Romanians, and the Slovaks for their plans ‘to make order’ in the immediate hinterland of the front line.” In his opinion, the situation is worse than it seems on the surface because “on the intermediate level of the State Department there are people who have been the opponents and enemies not only of Hungary but also of Fidesz-KDNP.” Fidesz politicians are absolutely convinced that Hungary’s bad reputation at the moment is due solely to antagonistic liberal critics of the Orbán regime who influence the middle stratum of government officials in the State Department. His final word on the subject was: “The key to the normalization of the bilateral relations is not in our hands.”

Today, echoing Kövér’s tirade, Viktor Orbán delivered a speech in the Hungarian Academy of Sciences at a conference commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Timișoara/Temesvár events in December 1989 which eventually led to the fall of Nicolae Ceaușescu. I must say one needs quite a fertile imagination to smuggle an attack on the United States into a speech on such an occasion, but Orbán managed. He quoted László Tőkés, the Calvinist minister who was the hero of the Romanian revolution, who apparently said on some occasion that “words uttered at the right time and place equal in value the Word of the Creator.” From here, with a sharp turn, he got to those “words uttered not at the right place” which produce destruction. Because calling another country a dictatorship, especially when uttered by those who have never in their lives lived in anything resembling a dictatorship, is wanton destruction. “Yet they think they are in possession of a description of a phantom picture of dictatorship, when they don’t see, they don’t know its essence.”

warfare

From here he moved easily to Yalta and Potsdam where “the representatives of the western world were not too worried about checks and balances” and “offered the people of Eastern Europe tyranny on a platter.” In 1989 each of those countries alone had to get rid of the shackles that were put on them in 1944-1945.

Checks and balances had to be on the Hungarian prime minister’s mind throughout the weekend because earlier he gave a very lengthy interview to Zoltán Simon of Bloomberg. Here I will summarize only those parts that have a direct bearing on U.S.-Hungarian relations. According to Orbán,”the U.S. in response to the geopolitical situation, has come up with an action plan, which they recently announced publicly, and it involves two dozen countries. This is fundamentally trying to influence alleged corruption in these two dozen countries.”

I suspect that the interview was conducted in English, a language in which the prime minister is no wordsmith, because these two sentences make no sense to me.  Perhaps what he wanted to say was that the United States is using the “fight against corruption” as an excuse to influence other countries’ foreign policies. But “this is the land of freedom fighters. And there’s public feeling in Hungary that sees a sovereignty problem in all of this. It feels that this is an attempt to influence from the outside the sovereign decisions of a freely elected parliament.”

Moving on to the U.S. criticism of Viktor Orbán’s “illiberal democracy,” he delivered the following history lesson to ignorant Americans:

Checks and balances only have meaning in the United States, or in presidential systems, where there are two identical sovereigns, that is a directly elected president and legislature. In Europe, this isn’t the case, there’s only one sovereign, there’s nowhere to “checks it or balance it,” because all of the power is delegated by parliament. In these instances it’s much more appropriate to talk about cooperation rather than checks and balances. Checks and balances is a U.S. invention that for some reason of intellectual mediocrity Europe decided to adopt and use in European politics.

Poor Montesquieu, who coined the term “checks and balances.” Or the ancient Greeks, who are generally credited with having introduced the first system of checks and balances in political life.

As for the American and European criticism of the illiberal state, Orbán’s answer is: “Hungarians welcomed illiberal democracy, the fact that in English it means something else is not my problem.”

Finally, an update on Ildikó Vida, who filed a complaint against an unnamed person who just happens to be M. André Goodfriend, the U.S. chargé d’affaires in Budapest. Everything is proceeding apace. She filed the complaint on Friday, December 12 and by today the prosecutors are already investigating. Magyar Nemzet speculates that the investigators will call in “witnesses,” but the paper admits that it is possible that “Goodfriend will easily get off.” The Hungarian judicial system, which is normally slow as molasses, can be very speedy when Viktor Orbán wants to expedite matters.

American-Hungarian relations and John McCain’s visit to Budapest

It was a week ago that Gergely Gulyás, the young rising star of Fidesz, attacked the American ambassador designate, Colleen Bell, accusing her of bias against the current Hungarian government. At that time I pointed out that without Viktor Orbán’s approval or perhaps even instructions the open letter Gulyás published could never have appeared. Now, in light of the recent visit of Senator John McCain to the Hungarian capital, a fuller picture emerges about the circumstances of that letter.

The public learned only on January 30 that Senator McCain will be spending a day in Budapest. He came not alone but as part of a nine-member bipartisan delegation consisting of three senators and six congressmen.

Surely, the Hungarian government must have known for some time about the impending visit of the American delegation. I venture to say that they knew about it before January 22 when Gulyás published his outrageous letter accusing Colleen Bell of partiality toward the opposition. Those Fidesz politicians who watched the video of the Senate hearing realized that the Republican McCain had a rather low opinion of the ambassadors Barack Obama proposed and may therefore have thought that an attack on Bell would yield brownie points with McCain. If that was the case, it was based on a total misunderstanding of American politics. Sure, at home McCain will show his dissatisfaction with Obama’s choices, but in Budapest he will not cozy up to Viktor Orbán just because he thinks that Bell knows nothing about Hungary or diplomacy. He will follow American foreign policy toward Hungary, which is currently very critical.

A day before the visit of the American delegation János Lázár continued the attacks on the United States in connection with the electronic listening devices that were most likely used on Hungarian citizens as well. Here they found themselves in a strong position. All of Europe is up in arms over the facts disclosed by Edward Snowden, and the decision was most likely made at the highest level that this topic could be used effectively against McCain during the talks. Another miscalculation. McCain didn’t apologize but instead emphasized that surveillance is necessary in the face of terrorism. They will be more selective in the application of these devices in the future. Period.

Meanwhile the parliamentary committee investigating American surveillance held its first meeting on January 30.  In addition to the official members, János Lázár, head of the prime minister’s office, Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior, and János Martonyi, foreign minister, were also present. By the way, the so-called “moderate” János Martonyi, the favorite of former American ambassadors, also condemned Colleen Bell’s testimony as if he were not aware that Bell didn’t express her own opinions but simply presented the official position of the United States government. Pintér promptly made the proceedings secret while Martonyi announced that the topic of surveillance will “remain on the agenda,” adding that “it will take a long time to repair the trust that is so important between allies and friends.” János Lázár announced that the surveillance affair “may influence in a significant way the relations between the USA and Hungary.” All in all, the Orbán government was ready to receive John McCain in full armor. Lázár also said at the press conference after the meeting that the new ambassador “will have to appear before the parliamentary committee,” something that will surely not happen. Máté Kocsis, the youthful chairman of the committee, went even further. He wants to see Edward Snowden himself in Budapest to answer the committee’s questions.

It was only on Thursday that McCain’s impending visit leaked out. The Hungarian media was convinced that the chief topic of the conversations would be Ukraine. The newspapers recalled that McCain had visited that country in December, but they really couldn’t give any reasonable explanation why Hungary would be that important in connection with the crisis in Ukraine other than having about 200,000 co-nationals living in its subcarpathian region who at the moment don’t seem to be threatened. What we learned afterwards was that Viktor Orbán “informed the American delegation of the V4 [Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Hungary] discussion on the situation in Kiev.” So, Ukraine was not at the center of the discussions.

McCain

So, let’s see what McCain himself had to say about his time in Budapest. Besides the usual round of praise for the faithful ally, he stated that “we understand the concerns about the state of democracy in Hungary that have been raised by people both inside and outside of this country. Some of these concerns are very serious…. The United States and the rest of the free world have an abiding interest in Hungary’s continued development as a strong, inclusive, and tolerant democracy, with a free market economy, an independent judiciary, and a free media.” During the conversations “we also expressed our hope that Hungary will address its energy security needs in ways that further diversify Europe’s supply of energy.” To translate all that into plain English, McCain criticized the state of democracy in Orbán’s Hungary and also must have shared his concerns over Hungary’s sole reliance on Russian energy sources, especially now that Orbán seems to have committed Hungary to Russia in building two new reactors on borrowed money.

From other Hungarian sources it became clear that the forthcoming election was also discussed. McCain must have expressed his worries about the fairness of the election because apparently Orbán readily agreed to have international observers. McCain was also worried about the lack of transparency in the negotiations with the Russians concerning Paks. And at this point I’m not at all sure that McCain knew that all the financial details of the Paks negotiations have already been made secret for years to come.

McCain and the others present were familiar with the memorial to be erected on Szabadság tér. They even talked about anti-Semitism in Hungary. The Democratic congressman from Florida, Ted Deutch, told Orbán that he must be sure that the monument will not be used “to whitewash history.” Apparently, Viktor Orbán gave his word, but unfortunately we know how much his word is worth.

The American delegation met Attila Mesterházy, Gordon Bajnai, Benedek Jávor, and Gábor Fodor. I assume that Ferenc Gyurcsány was not present because in 2007-2008 he was accused by the Americans, with help from Viktor Orbán who was then in his anti-Russian mode, of being a great friend of Vladimir Putin.

Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hírlap, the government’s mouthpieces, have for some time been publishing articles with a sharp anti-American edge, but since the Orbán government decided to take on the American government through an attack on Colleen Bell the articles and opinion pieces written in these two organs have become outright vicious.

Magyar Nemzet after the official meeting  made a flippant remark about “the former presidential candidate who suddenly had an attack of worry for Hungarian democracy.” István Lovas, the paper’s correspondent in Brussels, wrote an opinion piece in today’s Magyar Nemzet entitled “At last,” in which he expressed his delight that at last Hungary is hitting back: “Goodbye servitude, goodbye hopelessness.” Magyar Hírlap just today published four articles on American-Hungarian relations where they talk about John McCain as “a somebody called McCain, … a loud American” who lectures Hungarians about democracy and who “worries himself sick” over undemocratic Hungary. Hungarians are bored with all that talk about checks and balances they keep repeating. A few weeks ago an article in Magyar Hírlap described the oft repeated phrase “checks and balances” as American whining (nyivákolás).

I’m pretty sure that this fierce anti-American rhetoric is popular in certain circles in Hungary, but I have to believe that it will have very adverse effects on both the diplomatic and the economic relations between Hungary and the United States.

Statement of Brent Hartley, U.S. Department of State

Statement of Brent Hartley

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State

Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, U.S. Department of State

Hearing before the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

March 19, 2013, 3:00 P.M.

Thank you, Chairman Cardin and members of the Commission, for inviting me to join you today.  Mr. Chairman, I am well aware of – and appreciate – your continued interest in events in Hungary.  I believe your interest is warranted. Hungary remains a strong ally of the United States.  Hungary is a member of two bedrock transatlantic organizations – the OSCE and NATO – which define and defend democracy in Europe and beyond.  However, in the last two years we have been open about our concerns regarding the state of checks and balances, and independence of key institutions, in Hungary.  The United States has not been alone in this regard, as the Council of Europe, the European Commission, other friends and allies of Hungary, and civil society organizations have expressed similar views.  If the Government of Hungary does not address these concerns, not only will the lives of Hungarian citizens be affected, but it will also set a bad precedent for OSCE participating States and new members and aspirants to NATO.

Last year marked the 90th anniversary of U.S.-Hungarian diplomatic relations:  relations which remain strong, based on a common security architecture as NATO allies, a deep economic partnership, and what we believe are fundamental values shared by the American and Hungarian people.  Hungary plays an active and positive role in international fora, leading the way towards goals compatible with ours on a wide range of issues.

U.S.-Hungarian security cooperation, especially with respect to military, law enforcement, and counter-terrorism issues, is exceptionally robust.  We have enjoyed warm relations with each and every Hungarian government since the transition from Communism over 20 years ago.  This underscores a point that we always stress with our Hungarian friends:  our expressions of concern over the last two years should be taken in the proper spirit because they come from a strong friend of Hungary, and friends should be able to speak truth to friends.  Our concerns do not arise from any hostility toward Hungary, ignorance of the specifics of the laws, or from a partisan slant against its current leadership.  They are a sincere expression of what we and other friends of Hungary in Europe see as troubling trends in laws passed in the last few years.

Before former Secretary Clinton visited Hungary in June 2011, we took notice of Hungary’s controversial media law and a new constitution – which in Hungarian is called the Fundamental Law – portions of which also raised concerns among impartial observers.  In both cases, we had concerns about the content as well as the process by which they were passed.  Due to the mechanics of the electoral system, the current government gained a two-thirds majority of Parliament based on winning 52 percent of the vote in free and fair elections in 2010.  This gave it the authority to pass new laws, and indeed a new constitution.  As we have often said, Hungarian laws should be for Hungarians to decide.  But for something as fundamental as a constitution or a law impacting freedom of the press, the process must lead to a consensus built from a broad cross-section of society, rather than reflect only the opinions of the ruling coalition.  The speed with which these laws were drafted and then passed, and the lack of serious consultation with different sectors of society, did not honor the democratic spirit that the people of Hungary have long embraced.

That is why when Secretary Clinton visited Budapest in 2011, she called for Hungary to show “a real commitment to the independence of the judiciary, a free press, and governmental transparency.”

Since then, the Hungarian parliament has passed scores of laws at an accelerated pace.  Most of these laws were unobjectionable and aimed at addressing issues that had not been addressed in the early days after Hungary’s democratic transitions in 1989.  But more than a few of these laws posed threats to systemic checks and balances and the independence of key institutions that are the bedrock of mature democracies.  Privately and publicly, we expressed our concern to the Government of Hungary, as did several European institutions and governments.  Our message to our Hungarian allies is that all democracies have a duty to safeguard institutional checks and balances.  Unfortunately, in many respects our message went unheeded.

My colleague Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas O. Melia, whose experience in Hungary goes back to 1989, has described the root of our concerns with key Hungarian laws as the concentration of too much power into too few hands.

When Hungary’s Constitutional Court struck down a law on fiscal issues, the parliament swiftly passed another law taking away the Court’s competency to decide cases based on fiscal matters.  The government also expanded the Constitutional Court from 11 to 15 members, allowing the current administration to select the additional justices and thereby alter the Court’s juridical balance.  The new laws created a Media Council and gave it significant powers to oversee broadcast media, including the right to fine media for “unbalanced coverage,” an unsettlingly vague term.  Unlike similar media bodies in other democracies, such as our Federal Communications Commission, no opposition parties are represented on Hungary’s new Media Council.  The Council members have nine-year terms, and cannot be removed without a two-thirds vote of parliament.  The long length of these terms ensures that these political appointees will remain in place well past the next planned parliamentary elections in 2014.  This would tie the hands of the next government should it have anything less than a two-thirds majority.

The new laws also created a National Judicial Office and gave it a powerful, politically-appointed President with a nine-year term and the authority to assign cases to any court she sees fit.  This enables the office-holder to engage in “venue shopping” by steering specific cases to specific judges – a recipe for potential abuse.

Another new law stripped over three hundred religious congregations or communities of their official recognition.   To be clear, non-recognized religious groups are still free to practice their faith in Hungary.  However, they do not enjoy certain tax benefits and subsidies that recognized religious groups do.  In order to regain recognition, religions will have to be approved by a two-thirds vote of parliament, an onerous and unnecessarily politicized mechanism.  While we understand that the new religion law was adopted to stop fraud, we have urged the Hungarian Government to seek a less onerous and less politicized procedure to weed out malfeasance.

In mid-2012, as expressions of concern from the United States and Europeans mounted, the Hungarian Government began responding in constructive ways.  The government voluntarily submitted many laws for review by the legal experts of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission.  In some cases, though by no means all, the government modified laws to take into account specific concerns expressed by the Commission.  While some important issues remained unresolved, we were heartened that Hungary was engaging in dialogue, recognizing the merits of concerns expressed by the United States and others, and taking steps to address them.

We were further heartened when, early this year, Hungary’s Constitutional Court issued several rulings striking down controversial legislation.  This demonstrated that the Court could serve as an effective check on government.  Unfortunately, the reaction by the Hungarian government again called into question its commitment to checks and balances and institutional independence.  The government drafted and swiftly passed a new constitutional amendment, parts of which reinstated laws that had just been struck down by the Court.  Again, the process was rushed and lacking in broad societal consultation.  Moreover, the Hungarian Government ignored pleas from the State Department, European Commission, and Council of Europe – as well as several respected, non-partisan Hungarian NGOs – to engage in a more careful, deliberative process and allow for the Venice Commission’s experts to review the amendment.  This has prompted renewed expressions of concern from the Council of Europe, the President of the European Commission, and other allied governments, including the United States.  While the Government of Hungary has now submitted the amendment to the Venice Commission, this is the opposite of the normal procedure, whereby the Commission reviews laws before they are passed, not after passage.

I would like to address one other area that has provoked much concern: the rise of extremism in Hungary.  This phenomenon is, sadly, not unique to Hungary.  The rise in Hungary of the extremist Jobbik party as one of the largest opposition groups in parliament, and Jobbik’s affiliated paramilitary groups that incite violence, are clear challenges to tolerance.

Let me be clear:  the ruling Fidesz party is not Jobbik.  Fidesz’ ideology is within the mainstream of center-right politics, and its platform is devoid of anti-Semitism or racism.  In 2012, the Government of Hungary used the centenary of Raoul Wallenberg’s birth to promote tolerance.  Moreover, we have seen a growing willingness by Hungarian government leaders to condemn anti-Semitic and racist acts and expressions.  However, such condemnation is not always swift or resolute.  The Hungarian Government can and must do more to foster tirelessly a climate of tolerance.  One concern is that some local governments in Hungary have, with little objection from the governing party, erected statues and memorials to tainted figures from Hungary’s past.  And some of these figures have been re-introduced into the national educational curriculum.  As the Department’s former Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism said last year, “the recent rehabilitation of figures from Hungary’s past who are tainted by their support for Fascism and anti-Semitism contributes to a climate of acceptance of extremist ideology in which racism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of intolerance can thrive.”

We also call upon Hungarian leaders to do more to defend Romani Hungarians, who – like Romani in many other European countries – face discrimination, racist speech and violence that too often goes unanswered, just as in the United States leaders from both parties routinely speak out against racism.  We urge that perpetrators of violent attacks against Roma – in Hungary as well as elsewhere in Europe – will be arrested and prosecuted as swiftly as those who commit anti-Semitic attacks.

In conclusion, the United States has long enjoyed and benefitted from its strong alliance with Hungary and its people.  Just as we continue to do hard work together in Afghanistan and other danger spots around the world, so too will we continue to have a sincere – and at times difficult – dialogue on the importance of resolutely upholding the fundamental values that bind us.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for allowing me to express the State Department’s views on these important issues.