Orbán and the USA: Further developments

A few days ago I mentioned that of late both Zsolt Németh, the Fidesz expert on foreign policy, and Viktor Orbán, former prime minister and leader of Fidesz, have been courting the United States. The foundations of this new policy were laid down by Orbán in his speech on October 23, when he called attention the eastern danger: Putin’s Russia. This opening salvo was followed by Németh’s speeches in the United States.

Now there are new attempts, according to an article that appeared in Népszabadság today. Orbán, accompanied by his wife, will visit the United States next week. The occasion is the 9th annual Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom Award, given this year to U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher (a significant force in the Reagan administration), the late Tran Van Ba of South Vietnam, and János Horváth, the oldest member in the Hungarian parliament (born in 1921). The Medal of Freedom is awarded each year by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation to those individuals and institutions that have demonstrated a life-long commitment to freedom and democracy and opposition to communism and all other forms of tyranny. Former recipients include Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, Elena Bonner, John Paul II, Senator Joseph Lieberman, Senator Jesse Helms, Senator Henry M. Jackson, Lane Kirkland, William F. Buckley Jr., Michael Novak, and Major General John Singlaub. (That’s a really mixed bag!) The ceremony will be held on November 15 at the Hungarian embassy in Washington, and a laudatory speech about Horváth’s career will be given by George Herbert Walker (cousin of George Herbert Walker Bush, 41st president of the U.S. and father of the current president, and former ambassador to Hungary).

Horváth came to the United States in 1956. He had a degree in economics from Hungary and subsequently received a Ph.D. in economics from Columbia University. For a while he taught at Butler University in Indianapolis. Horváth became an American citizen and immersed himself in Republican politics. According to his own account, he met Reagan for the first time when Reagan, then governor of California, came to Indiana to help former Indiana governor Edgar D. Whitcomb in his bid for the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat. (He was defeated by Richard Lugar, first elected in 1976 and still in the Senate–interestingly enough, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee.) Horváth was an economic advisor to Governor Whitcomb. Horváth also tried his own hand in politics and ran as a Republican for a House seat. He lost. He was also active in Hungarian emigré politics. He returned to Hungary in 1997 and a year later joined the Fidesz and became member of parliament both at the 2002 and the 2006 elections from the party list. He is considered by some as a less belligerent Fidesz member who was willing last year to lay a wreath on Imre Nagy’s grave with Imre Mécs, who might also be a hero of 1956 but now belongs to the wrong party. As for my take: I have heard him talk with György Bolgár quite often, and I must say I wasn’t impressed.

Obviously the receipt of the medal came in handy to Viktor Orbán, who decided that the ceremony at the Hungarian embassy would be a good opportunity to strengthen his rather loose connections to the American administration. In 2002 he was rebuffed when he tried to have an audience with George Bush. Apparently Orbán was so furious that he refused to meet with Nancy Goodman Brinker, who was the ambassador prior to Walker and who didn’t like the coded antisemitic utterances of people in Orbán’s party.  His relations with George Herbert Walker were a great deal better, but even Walker couldn’t convince Orbán to vote for the extension of the presence of the Hungarian contingent in Iraq. Apparently, there are new developments in US-Fidesz relations, mostly thanks to the new U.S. ambassador, April Foley, who apparently looks upon the Fidesz with more sympathy than Nancy Goodman Brinker.

So we have an American ambassador whose political sympathies are closer to the Hungarian right than to the governing parties. Then we have yet another Fidesz shift: Orbán must have realized that his "I hate the United States because you were not nice to me" game will not be to his advantage in the long run. Orbán apparently would very much like to have a chat with Tom Lantos, but there is no definite answer yet. I might be wrong but I have the feeling that Tom Lantos will be otherwise occupied. According to rumors, Orbán would also like to meet with Rudi Giuliani and Hillary Clinton. I would be surprised if in this early hectic campaign season they would consider talking to the head of the Hungarian opposition party.

As for the White House. I’m sure nothing will come of that. Nancy Goodman Brinker is head of protocol nowadays. Although her job is basically logistic, I suspect she would be consulted about Hungarian visitors to the White House. And guess who’s on her "Do not invite" list?