Coleen Bell

American-Hungarian relations hit rock bottom

I’m continuing the American theme but this time from the point of view of the Fidesz-controlled Magyar Nemzet. It has been evident for some time that the right-wing media’s attitude toward the United States was moving beyond the critical. It was becoming outright shrill.

Of course, Magyar Nemzet has plenty of ammunition as a result of the Snowden revelations of widespread American spying even in allied countries. In the last few days it came to light that Hungary, like almost all European countries, was a target of American surveillance. Magyar Nemzet is certain that it was the American Embassy’s roof that served as the center of U.S. surveillance activities. After all, one of the articles pointed out, the embassy is only 400 meters from the Hungarian Parliament where Viktor Orbán’s office is located.

Almost every day since the second half of October there has been at least one article dwelling on the moral turpitude of the United States of America, which at one time was “moralistic and childlike.” The change came with the presidency of George W. Bush, who so completely lost touch with reality, the paper opined, that “not even Hollywood could help.” According to Gábor Stier, the author of an op/ed piece, the United States is no better than the Soviet Union. Both only defend their own national interests. The lesson to be learned: Hungarians cannot trust their allies and, instead of dreaming, “we must concentrate on enhancing our own strength.”

Uncle sam

The surveillance scandal in Hungary, about which we know practically nothing, immediately prompted wild speculations in the press room of Magyar Nemzet. Was the information gathered by the Americans used “to influence social processes”? Or perhaps the United States was trying to influence the country’s domestic policies.

The answer came on the same day, November 7, in an unsigned article. The well-informed Magyar Nemzet learned earlier that Máté Kocsis, a member of the parliamentary committee looking into the matter, intimated that American surveillance activities might have been more than information gathering. “They may have aimed at gaining political influence.” Hungarian politicians and the right-wing media specialize in “may have” statements because this way they don’t have to take responsibility for their assertions, but at the same time they can plant the desired thought into readers’ minds.

On the basis of that non-information Magyar Nemzet came out with the following rather wild hypothesis, naturally sticking a question mark to the end of the sentence, “Was the United States working for the left-liberals?” The article claimed that the U.S. Embassy was far too interested in Hungarian domestic policies and “showed an interest in the criminal proceedings launched against former politicians and high civil servants.” For example, the U.S. Embassy asked for statistics on these proceedings from the prosecutor’s office. Well, it would be strange indeed if the staff members of an embassy were not interested in the affairs of the country to which they are accredited. To this end, they monitor the media and ask official channels for information. The American Embassy did nothing wrong when they asked for information on the politically motivated court proceedings.

The American Embassy’s communiqué I quoted yesterday upset the Hungarian right wing and most likely Viktor Orbán himself.  The reporters of Magyar Nemzet simply don’t understand why the U.S. is demanding an explanation from either Viktor Orbán or János Áder when in their opinion the Fidesz government had nothing to do with the unveiling of Miklós Horthy’s statue. It was done by a Hungarian Reformed minister with Jobbik sympathies and was attended by a few Jobbik members of parliament. Their claim is that the Americans addressed the request to the wrong persons.

Moreover, the argument continues, the Hungarian government already answered the charges. Antal Rogán, the leader of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, explained that it was “a provocation” aimed at arousing the international left-wing press to launch yet another attack against Hungary. In addition, János Lázár, undersecretary in charge of the prime minister’s office, said that the Horthy period must be judged by historians and not by politicians. He himself is not sufficiently knowledgeable to decide on the nature of the Hungarian regime between the two world wars. What else do the Americans want?

Levente Sitkei, another editor of Magyar Nemzet, was most upset that the American communiqué called Horthy “a Nazi ally plain and simple.” I don’t know whether he disputes the fact that Horty was an ally of Nazi Germany or whether he challenges the phrase “plain and simple.”  Our man has a devastating opinion of all American ambassadors who have served in Hungary since the change of regime. They were ignorant and among themselves they managed to pile up and pass on such political ballast that it’s no wonder American-Hungarian relations have hit rock bottom. The new “rich and beautiful” Colleen Bell will only add her own to that ballast. I myself used harsh words against the former American ambassadors, but while I criticized them for being ineffective, Sitkei condemns them because they were not more supportive, I guess, of Fidesz.

What advice does Sitkei have for the new American ambassador? She should “look behind the surface.” I guess that means that she should not accept the condemnations of the western media and the prejudices of the State Department but look for the real Hungary. She shouldn’t believe all that talk about extremism and anti-Semitism. Sitkei also hopes that she will be open and will listen to all sides as a good democrat should. In plain language, she should believe the Orbán government’s propaganda. “Or, will she be such an American and such a democrat that an hour before this article is published it will appear in English on Colleen Bell’s smart phone?”

And finally, a few choice sentences from an absolutely devoted Fidesz supporter. I assume he is retired by now, but earlier he was a professor at one of the top universities in the country. He is outraged about the American demand for an explanation of the unveiling of the Horthy statue. He is certain that the communiqué was not composed in Washington but that “one of those no good career diplomats who have been loitering around here for years wrote it who have nothing to do and who get their information exclusively from the communists and liberals.” These no-goods send letters in the name of their government against Hungary! In his opinion an American ambassador should know something about Hungary’s history and it would also be desirable to name someone who “has Hungarian roots.” He is certain that the new ambassador has already been approached by the communists and their friends. Just as the State Department is influenced by “inordinately prejudiced old geezers, like Charlie Gati.” Our professor would be very pleased if his words got to Washington because he is a true friend of the United States. So, I obliged.