Viktor Orbán in New York and Washington

Orbán’s week-long trip to the United States wasn’t exactly triumphant. It is obvious that the head of the largest opposition party felt that he had to make some gestures toward the United States because, in the last few years, relations between the Bush administration and Viktor Orbán were strained. Now that Orbán believes that perhaps, after all, he might be the next prime minister of Hungary, he decided to mend fences. However, if I read the reports of the trip correctly, Orbán must be sorely disappointed.

It seems that the original Fidesz idea of fence mending was to use the Russian danger and the current Hungarian government’s relatively good relations with Moscow as the first step toward reconciliation. Perhaps if he blackens the name of the current Hungarian government as lending a helping hand to Russian expansionism, the administration would change its attitude toward the Hungarian right. It seems that this strategy was wrong. According to well informed sources Orbán was told that, although Washington is aware of Putin’s pressure on Europe, it simply doesn’t consider Hungary "a bridge" over which Putin and the Russian army will march into Europe. Apparently, in the State Department he was told that "Hungary is not a bridge between East and West but part of the West. Hungary is not Ukraine or Belorussia." This information came from a member of the Hungarian American Coalition (HAC), an umbrella organization of various Hungarian emigré groups in the United States.

Let me say a few things here about the Hungarian American Coalition. A few years ago this organization wholeheartedly supported Viktor Orbán and Fidesz. Of late, however, this rather conservative, right of center group, no longer looks upon Fidesz with favor. They seem to be more sympathetic to the Magyar Demokrata Fórum (MDF). This is not surprising given the composition of the HAC. I know a few people in the leadership and I don’t think that Orbán’s populism and left-wing, socialist slogans would appeal to them. In any case, the HAC’s homepage says absolutely nothing about Orbán’s visit, while they are "deeply honored by the visit of the ninety-five-year-old Otto Habsburg," who would be Hungary’s king today if Hungary hadn’t become a republic in 1945. Let me add that the leaders of the HAC fairly regularly have discussions about Hungarian affairs in the State Department. If it is true that the HAC is no longer behind Viktor Orbán, then perhaps Orbán’s task in the State Department was a little more difficult than it would have been otherwise.

As I indicated earlier, Orbán was hoping to meet Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani and I "boldly" predicted that these meetings would not take place given the candidates’ campaign schedules. Indeed, Orbán had to be satisfied with George Pataki, former governor of New York. Quite a difference. He was planning to meet with Tom Lantos on Tuesday, but Lantos kept postponing the meeting. It was not until Thursday that the two men met. The meeting couldn’t have been very friendly, although it lasted a little over an hour. One possible barometer of the atmosphere was that there was no joint press conference. Orbán left and Lantos himself talked to the waiting Hungarian journalists. Lantos apparently didn’t mince words concerning the Hungarian Guard and the growth of the extreme right in Hungary. Surely, he must have mentioned the connection between the Fidesz and the extreme right groups. After all, there are many active supporters of Jobbik in Fidesz circles. Orbán’s comment about his conversation with Lantos says it all: "No one is in the position to tell me what I am supposed to think about this or that, but I will listen politely to anyone, including Mr. Lantos."

Poor Orbán. He obviously had a lousy time with Lantos, and then there is the head of the Hungarian Guard who has his own opinion about this meeting. Gábor Vona sent a open letter to Orbán (via MTI = Magyar Távirati Iroda) in which he criticized Orbán for even talking to Lantos, who is–according to Vona–"a political adventurer who trampled on the souls of many millions of Hungarians" when he called the Hungarian Guard a fascist organization.

As for the State Department, Orbán managed to talk to Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, and Paula J. Dobriensky, Undersecretary of Democracy and Global Affairs. In addition, he had a chat with John Bruton, European Union Ambassador to the United States, who was formerly prime minister of Ireland. One has the feeling that these courtesy calls are rather meaningless and not just in the case of Viktor Orbán, who, after all, is only an opposition leader of a small Central European country.

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Amazing how much a man can be blinded by his own arrogance…