Yesterday was the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. Americans were captivated. But what was the Hungarian reaction to this "historic moment"? Let's start with Americans living in Hungary who gathered on Szabadság tér (Freedom Square). Those who would like to see a few minutes of the celebration should visit http://index.hu/video/2009/01/21/obamapesten/?p=0 Then there was a reception given at the U.S. Embassy where Ambassador April Foley, a Bush appointee, was so moved that she could hardly finish her speech. Video here: http://nol.hu/kulfold/april_foley_megkonnyezte_obama_beiktatasat_-_video The liberal papers (Népszabadság, Népszava) were sympathetic, Magyar Nemzet acted as if there were no such thing as an inauguration in Washington, while Magyar Hírlap decided to be bold and tell exactly how they feel both about the United States and its new president.
The official Hungarian response was predictable. Both Kinga Göncz, the foreign minister, and András Simonyi, the former Hungarian ambassador to Washington, are hopeful that American-Hungarian relations in the future will be even stronger under the new administration. Of course, the high-level personal American-Hungarian link that some Hungarians were counting on didn't pan out. A few months ago when Hillary Clinton was still ahead in the polls there were people in Hungary who were already rejoicing because they were sure that if Hillary Clinton became president she would appoint Richard Holbrooke as secretary of state. Holbrooke's wife, Kati Marton, is of Hungarian origin. In fact, their wedding took place in Budapest at the bride's request. Well, Richard Holbrooke will not be a cabinet member, but he may still play an important role under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In liberal circles there are people who complain that no Hungarian television station reported from Washington during the inauguration ceremonies. Apparently some really moronic program aired on MTV (the national public television station) while the inauguration was taking place. I hoped that ATV might broadcast at least parts of the inauguration because ATV specializes in political coverage. But no, there was nothing and in this evening's news they even managed to misreport the details of the fluffed presidential oath. It was Chief Justice Roberts who reordered the wording of the oath. Instead of "I will faithfully execute the office …" he prompted, "I will execute the office … faithfully." Obama immediately realized the mistake, smiled slightly, and began reciting the version specified in the constitution. However, most likely out of politeness, he corrected himself and followed Robertson's wording. Now what happened in Hungary? First of all, only those could watch the ceremony who knew English and most of the people at first blush got mixed up and thought that Obama was so nervous that he couldn't even repeat those thirty-two simple words. Not terribly surprising because Hungarians don't know the oath as well as Americans do. But other Hungarian speakers whose English is less fluent were not that lucky and this morning almost all internet papers blamed Obama for the alleged mistake. Bad enough. But this evening what do I hear in ATV's evening news? "Some legal experts" think that the presidential oath was invalid because of the slightly different wording. So does the United States have no president? I assume that is their learned opinion. ATV mercifully refused to divulge who these so-called legal experts are.
I left Magyar Hírlap for last. I mentioned at the beginning that Magyar Nemzet decided to act as if they had never heard of Barack Obama or the inauguration. That was the safest course of action. In the past the paper has taken a decidedly anti-American stance, but there is a change in the policy of Fidesz, and Viktor Orbán actually expressed his misgivings about the paper's attitude. Especially since only about two weeks ago Orbán for the first time in the longest time decided to write a very pro-American article in the same paper. Well, Magyar Hírlap had no such compunctions. They decided to publish an editorial written by László Szentesi Zöldi who is in charge of the paper's foreign news. Szentesi Zöldi began his career at MTV, moved on to Duna TV, from there to Magyar Nemzet, and finally to Magyar Hírlap. A steady move from liberal to the far right. The headline is telling: "Poor Obama." He complains about the fuss over a black man becoming president of the United States. Not a big deal. And that Lincoln Bible. After all, Lincoln had household slaves like everyone else. Is he talking about Lincoln, the poor lawyer from Illinois, or perhaps confusing him with Jefferson? Then he spends a little time on Lincoln's belief that slaves should be resettled in Africa. Nothing new. That was a widespread belief in those days in the United States. The difference was that it was he who abolished slavery. And, he continues, these are the facts but nowadays nobody cares a whit in America about facts. Only illusions. It seems that Obama's only novelty is the color of his skin. He is not black, he is a mulatto. He has had a privileged life. What does he know about ghettos? There he was dancing at inaugural balls from where one cannot see the misery of New Orleans or even that of the man on the street. He is just as much an elitist as his predecessors: a successful and rich man who just recently fell into politics. What will the Americans think when the president has to say something on the black and white issue? Let's say he has to say something in a case similar to that of O. J. Simpson? "You cannot love the Black Panthers and the Ku-Klux-Klan at the same time."
Well, I don't have to tell you how distorted this description of Barack and Michelle Obama is. Both came from poor families, and thanks to their intelligence and their parents' or grandparents' sacrifice they managed to get into the best colleges and universities of the land. And both worked in black sections of Chicago as community organizers. Obama wouldn't know what's going on in the ghettos?
And the final atrocity: "The trouble is that the world has no time for experimentation. They didn't invite us to the inaugural balls, only from the outside, through the frozen-in window could we watch the colorful dancers.