U.S.-Hungarian relations: Tit for tat?

You may recall that the highlight of the Hungarian EU presidency was supposed to be the Eastern Partnership summit to be held this past weekend in Hungary. Then suddenly the venue of the summit was changed to coincide with the EU presidency of Poland. The alleged reason was the overly crowded schedule of world leaders. However, a few weeks ago we learned that a new summit would be held in Poland at the same time that the gathering in Hungary was supposed to take place. This meeting would be attended by twenty-three presidents of eastern Europe and countries farther east. The most interesting part of the announcement was that this summit–crowded schedule or not–would also be attended by Barack Obama.

This change of venue and the announcement of the visit by Obama to Poland were too much for Viktor Orbán. It seems he decided to retaliate. Pál Schmitt, president of Hungary, had more important things to do on May 27 than attend a working dinner with the American president. He accompanied Viktor Orbán to the Vatican where they listened to a concert commemorating the birth of Franz Liszt two hundred years ago.

Schmitt attended the summit in Warsaw and even delivered a speech about the importance of Eastern Europe "in transmitting their experiences" to the countries of North Africa that only lately had revolted against the dictators ruling over them. He quickly added that he of course realizes the differences between the two regions. He mentioned poverty as a threat to democracy and talked about the "Roma strategy" in whose formulation Hungary had the lion's share. As soon as he finished his speech, Schmitt was off to Rome.

In the late afternoon Air Force One landed in Warsaw; Obama was the guest of honor at a working dinner of the region's presidents. Twenty of them. Three were missing: the president of Serbia because the president of Kosovo was invited; the president of Romania, a country that strongly opposed the independence of Kosovo because of its own fear of territorial autonomy of some Hungarian-inhabited territories; and Pál Schmitt, the president of Hungary.

Practically all commentators with the exception of Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hírlap are convinced that Schmitt was instructed by Viktor Orbán to boycott the summit and snub the U.S. president. As far as I can figure, the decision for Schmitt to go to the Vatican must have been made some time ago because Schmitt and his wife also had the privilege of spending fifteen minutes alone with the pope. It was an official audience where Schmitt informed the pope about the "achievements" of the new constitution that should be welcomed by the Vatican: the mention of Christianity, the Holy Crown of St. Stephen, the defense of family, fetus, and mother. But, as Schmitt laconically noted to the reporter of MTI, "Pope Benedict XVI already knew about all of these." We also learned from Schmitt that for these "achievements" we must thank the pope himself because it was he who suggested taking the Polish constitution as a model. The pope also helped to select the Liszt works for the concert.

And now let's backtrack a bit to the life and work of Tom Lantos, member of the U.S. House of Representatives between 1981 and 2008 when he died suddenly before finishing his term. Tom Lantos was a Hungarian by birth and the U.S. Congress's only Holocaust survivor. He was also heavily involved in Hungarian affairs, and after his death the idea of establishing a Tom Lantos Institute in Budapest came up. By the time the Institute began to take shape there was a change in the Hungarian government. The new prime minister, Viktor Orbán, had had a somewhat strained relationship with Tom Lantos. The last time he asked for an interview in Washington, Lantos made him wait for three days and at the end of the meeting there was no joint press conference. Orbán left and Lantos had a few measured words to say about their differences.

The way the Tom Lantos Institute is shaping up one has the distinct feeling that the people who will be in charge are not exactly the kind of people Lantos would have considered his political friends and allies. One of the board members is Maximilian Teleki, president of the Hungarian-American Coalition, a decidedly right of center umbrella organization allegedly representing a number of Hungarian organizations in the United States. The board has two chairmen: Katrina Lantos-Swett, the younger daughter of Tom Lantos, and Kinga Gál, a Fidesz EP member. In addition there is one MSZP and one LMP member of the Hungarian parliament. The person who will really be in charge of running the Institute's daily affairs will be Rita Izsák, undersecretary in the Ministry of Administration and Justice. According to MTI's information it is also possible that László Tőkés may take part in the work of the Institute. Poor Tom Lantos must be turning in his grave.

The official opening of the Institute will be held at the end of June, only a day after the unveiling of a statue of Ronald Reagan in Budapest. For the unveiling several important American guests are expected, including Condoleezza Rice. Hillary Clinton was invited to the official opening of the Lantos Institute.

There is no word yet on whether Hillary Clinton will attend, but after Schmitt's boycott of the dinner with Barack Obama, I think the American Secretary of State should think twice before accepting such an invitation.

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Member

such a pitty.Orabn and his clown president. hahaha I am sure Obama could not sleep all night when he learned that Pal Schmitt will miss the dinner. As for the Pope, he is a well educated, very intelligent man. I am sure he could care less about Orban and/or Scmitt, but he is God’s servent so he must put with it. As for Obama, I am sure he was sighted with relief.

Member

I think they just didn’t want to meet a black guy …

Ivan
Guest

Interesting to note that the word used for black people by almost everyone in Hungary these days, in print as well, is actually highly perjorative according to every Hungarian dictionary consulted … and there’s a perfectly good non-perjorative alternative which everyone knows?
A mainstream (and by mainstream, I mean to say, available in almost every newsagent) newspaper recently led on fears that black people were coming to Hungary – ‘with their death’.
Why do people tolerate a media like this?
And wouldn’t it have been good for the Presidents to have met if only so that OrbanTV could have carried some coverage of the moment, rather than leave the idea of a black President as something rather distant, somewhat inconceivable and rather nem normalis?

Johnny Boy
Guest

László Tőkés, a hero of the revolution in Romania and an all-around great man, is way too above any standard that Tom Lantos has ever set in his life. Your disgusting words connected to Tőkés only show your lack of quality and frustration because of a man greater than all of your political kin will ever be, combined.

Johnny Boy
Guest

And erecting a statue of Reagan is a great thing. He was easily the best American president of the past decades.

Member

Johnny Boy: “And erecting a statue of Reagan is a great thing. He was easily the best American president of the past decades.” Rest assured, Orban will not get any closer even to the worst of them then a statue, literally and otherwise. But you know, who needs American Presidents when you can have the Chinese and the Pope to shake and kiss hands to. (By the way, Reagan was a great supporter of Israel. I hope that will not mean the rethinking of the statue or that some good Hungarians will dirty the statue.

Ivan
Guest

“He was easily the best American president of the past decades.” – Johnny Boy
“His children did not like him that much … I could not believe that such a man had even been a poor governor of California in a bad year, let alone that such a smart country would put up with such an obvious phony and loon.” – Christopher Hitchens

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