Richard Field’s encounter with Hungarian politics

Here is a man who in the best American tradition wants to help. He thought before the last elections that he would like to support a party he considered to have good intentions. That party was LMP. In addition, he established the American House Foundation that is working with the Hungarian Red Cross and other non-governmental organizations on issues of poverty, homelessness, and social exclusion. And what is the result of his endeavors? According to the latest twist in official government communication, not only did “foreign business interests” stir up trouble in peaceful Gyöngyöspata but according to last night’s late-night news on MTA the American businessman who has been living in Hungary for a number of years might even be in cahoots with Russian intelligence forces that for some strange reason are using the Gypsies in their efforts to destabilize the countries of Eastern Europe. According to the report, the Hungarian national security forces are definitely investigating.

While Hungarian secret service officers are madly looking for Russian agents and “foreign business circles,” the Hungarian parliament decided to investigate on its own. I mentioned already yesterday that a young Fidesz MP, Máté Kocsis, will be heading the investigation. Knowing the Orbán government’s methods, they will surely find some culprits whose sole purpose in life is to smear Hungary’s reputation. Yesterday I asked Richard Field to send me the English translation of his original letter to Mr. Kocsis in which he makes it perfectly clear that he has no intention of appearing before his subcommittee.

Here is his letter.

Dear Mr. Kocsis:

The American President Abraham Lincoln once said “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.”

The facts of Gyongyospata are well documented and speak for themselves.  If you are curious about what happened in Gyongyospata between March 3rd and March 19th, I suggest you read my article which appeared in the March 26th edition of the Budapest Times “A Call to Alms” a Hungarian translation of which you will find attached.

Abraham Lincoln also said “You can fool some people all the time, all the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time.”

As for your kangaroo court, I have no intention of appearing before it as I have already issued a statement.  However, I would add the following:  When I arrived to Gyongyospata at 7:30 am on Friday morning to assist with the evacuation of Gyongyospata’s women and children, I did not see a single policeman.  If you study the photographs of the evacuation carefully, you see not one policeman.  I was able to drive in, put 276 people on six buses (with milk and snacks for the short journey to safety) and drive back to Gyongyos for additional provisions without a single policeman checking my documents or so much as asking me what was going on.   It was only upon my return from Gyongyos that I encountered a large police presence (for which I am grateful to Minister Pinter) and had my documents checked.

The buses carrying Gyongyospata’s women and children to safety had already departed when the “400 police” arrived.  That does not mean they would not have arrived anyway had the evacuation not taken place.  But it does mean that I and others had good reason to fear for the lives and safety of Gyongyospata’s Roma residents when putting them on the buses.

But don’t take my word for it.  You don’t even have to take the word of Gyongyospata’s Roma (which you and the political propaganda machine owned by prominent businessmen with close ties to Fidesz have persistently disregarded).  Just ask the six bus drivers.  

If, through my actions, I have harmed the international reputation of Hungary, a country I deeply love, then I very much regret it.  However, if called upon to protect Hungarian citizens from fascist thugs in the future, I will do so without hesitation should it be in my power to do so.  Because protecting the lives of Hungarian citizens is more important than sparing any government or political party embarrassment.

With freedom comes the responsibility to protect society’s weakest members.

 Richard Field


American House Foundation

As referenced in his letter, Richard Field wrote a detailed description of the situation in Gyöngyöspata on March 26. It appeared in the Budapest Timesunder the title “A Call to Alms.” In this article we can read what actually happened in Gyöngyöspata where vigilantes terrorized the Roma inhabitants of the village for a good two weeks. It is also clear from the article, which reflects Field’s personal experience, that the Hungarian policemen on the spot instead of getting rid of the vigilantes fraternized with them. We do know from other sources that more than 20% of the police force sympathize with–and perhaps at the elections even voted for–Jobbik, a neo-Nazi party.

The government story of foreign “provocation” is getting fancier and fancier. Zsolt Semjén, deputy prime minister, not only suspects foreign involvement but calls the events at Gyöngyöspata “obvious provocation coming from several directions, including foreign interest groups.” In a mysterious manner he indicated that “there are very considerable forces whose interest is to paint an unfavorable picture of Hungary.” But there are also groups within Hungary with evil intentions. One is Jobbik, a party that by showing that the Roma problem is a serious one can justify its existence in Hungarian political life. The other Hungarian party that is guilty of blowing up the events in Gyöngyöspata is LMP. According to Semjén LMP by exaggerating the Roma problem can pose as “a defender of human rights against the impotent state.”

Richard Field’s work on behalf of the Gypsies through his foundation is, of course, quite distinct from his generous contribution to LMP. But LMP wants to make sure that no one conflates the two and is distancing itself from Field’s activities. András Schiffer, the spokesman of LMP, denied any solidarity with the American businessman and in fact announced that the evacuation of the Roma women and children was too hasty. Mr. Field just didn’t think of the consequences, said Schiffer. The argument he used is practically identical to the line pursued by Fidesz politicians. The foreign reaction to the word “evacuation” was harmful to Hungary. It was an exaggeration. A good description of the whole shameful interview can be found in a reader’s reaction (Ed Carping’s note) in Amerikai-Magyar Népszava.

Mr. Field will not appear before the subcommittee, but it seems that LMP “will gladly join the work of the committee.” I guess their politicians think that they can “clear the good name of their party.” But knowing the outcome of the parliamentary committees’ deliberations nowadays I wouldn’t bet on it. The script is already written.

April 30, 2011