The Tom Lantos Institute: A Hungarian diplomat’s letter to Hillary Clinton

I don't know who "Diplomat Anonymous" is, but I received his letter from a most reliable source. Therefore I can vouch for its authenticity. It is an emotional piece and reflects the helplessness many people feel over the current Hungarian situation. Tom Lantos, a Hungarian-born member of the United States Congress, was a Holocaust survivor who cared about the country of his birth. Therefore it is not surprising that an institute bearing his name was established in Budapest. The Tom Lantos Institute's official opening will take place on June 28, 2011.

This letter is a plea to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton not to attend the ceremony. A lot of people believe that the state-funded Tom Lantos Institute will not appropriately serve the memory of Mr. Lantos and will not function in the spirit of his ideas. Tom Lantos was deeply committed to the kind of democracy the current Hungarian government is in the process of destroying.

  * * *

SECRETARY CLINTON: PLEASE DON’T VISIT BUDAPEST

By “Diplomat Anonymous”

 

My purpose in writing to you, Madame Secretary, is to plead with you: Please don’t come to my country – as I hear you plan to do – later this June.

I’m a Hungarian diplomat not in good standing, but I’m a Hungarian patriot. I love my country. A mid-level official, I’d probably be an Office Director in your Department of State. Last summer, soon after the government of Viktor Orbán took over, I was assigned to cover a country about which I know nothing. I accepted the challenge, but I was also demoted. I’m now a Desk Officer, a lowly position. Compared to hundreds of other Foreign Service colleagues who were summarily dismissed (together, of course, with the political appointees),  I’m considered lucky because I could stay on and get a (reduced) paycheck.

While I’m afraid to disclose my name – forgive me, I have a family – you should know that I’ve never belonged to a political party. I entered the Foreign Service in the late 1990s; I’m now 36 years old. Why was I demoted? Have no idea. Perhaps I had advanced too fast under the previous (socialist-liberal) governments. (I passed three language tests in five years with what would be a top score of “4” in your system.) Perhaps, in a previous assignment, I had supported too strongly Hungary’s integration into Western institutions. (Imagine our messy condition: Foreign Minister János Martonyi, my boss, still favors the European Union while Prime Minister Orbán rants and raves against it even though Hungary held the EU’s Presidency this year.)

Bitter as I’m, please don’t discount my views. This government is so emotionally nationalist that it has changed the name of Roosevelt Square in the heart of Budapest. Given our historic experiences, it’s more understandable – but still childish – that Moscow Square is no more either. The other day the Speaker of Parliament, Mr. Orbán’s closest friend, questioned the territorial integrity of neighboring Slovakia. Because of our political leaders’ offensive and at times even irredentist rhetoric, relations with Romania are worse than ever. The usually cautious German government explicitly criticized our new constitution. Meanwhile, at home, the government has eliminated all checks and balances and our press is no longer free.

It’s especially painful to hear that you may be coming here to bless the opening of the Tom Lantos Institute (TLI). I didn’t know the late Congressman well; we only shook hands once in Washington. But I know that he fought against prejudice, he fought for human rights. Yes, to his great credit, he cared about the Hungarian ethnic minority in the neighboring countries, and the Institute may well publish books or pamphlets on that issue. But what about media freedom here? What about anti-Semitism? Will TLI address these painful issues? I predict that it will not – it cannot — because the Orbán government authored this very restrictive media law, and it doesn’t believe there’s anti-Semitism in Hungary. As for the Roma issue, which is the most agonizing social problem here, please ask an aide to check out the background of Rita Izsák, TLI’s new Director. In the Roma community, of which she’s a member, she’s known as Uncle Tom.  She will respect the wishes of the government, which, after all, is TLI’s sole financial backer.

I understand that you have to deal with leaders who are more authoritarian than Hungary’s. I understand that you cannot ignore such countries as China, Russia, or Saudi Arabia. I served in one of those countries earlier in this decade; I’m afraid democracy doesn’t fall on fertile soil there. In Hungary, however, we have a very real chance in the next few years to restore a democratic political order. It’s not going to be easy, but we’ll fight internal oppresssion and we’ll regain our place in the community of democratic nations. But it would help – it would reinforce the courage of our convictions — if you were to send a low-ranking official to Budapest. It would be a very useful signal from the United States, which remains to many Hungarians the gold standard when it comes to freedom and democracy. 

Otherwise, even if you were to give a lecture here on ”values” or whisper friendly advice ”from one ally to another,” your presence would only help legitimize a democratically-elected undemocratic government.

Madame Secretary: Thank you, in advance, for your consideration.

 

 

 

 

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Member

I bet in 5 bucks Johnny will call this guy a traitor.
Nice letter but a bit misguided. These letters and phone calls should go to the Hungarian politicians. Hillary should go, no matter what the truth is. She should not take a stand like this at this point.

MAGYARbuszkeseg
Guest

Hillary and most US diplomats are the confused viewers of history.
Has anybody followed the Envoy for Monitoring Antisemitism in the State Department?
http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/rls/dos/1718.htm

peter litvanyi
Guest

Great letter, the address is wrong.
Anyone still remembering Rwanda: “while acts of genocide were committed…it should not be called a genocide”. OK, that was Bill’s deal to be fair.
Hill the “not this blue dress again dear” perhaps will have the style not to be there. She is some Lady and I sincerely hope that she will listen to that inner voice. After all, not attending doesn’t cost a cent, right?
May the author of this letter be remembered as “just” forever.
And may you rest in peace Dear Tom. “adonai elohenu, adonai ehod”. We miss you too. It was not in vain, you see?
Peter Litvanyi

Jim
Guest

The latest today, for readers of Hungarian: FIDESZ proposes a law that allows law enforcement officials to interrogate suspects without the presence of a lawyer, and hold them for 5 days:
http://velemenyvezer.blog.hu/2011/06/15/bekemenyit_a_fidesz_120_ora_orizetben_kihallgatas_vedo_nelkul?utm_source=ketrec&utm_medium=link&utm_campaign=index

Member

I am not sure if I agree with letter. I do not think Hilary visiting Hungary would be a bad thing. She is well advised and she is tough. SHe may be delivering a speech Mr Lantos would be proud of, and it would be a great warning to all who listen, even if they would be in sweet denial.
Jim: “FIDESZ proposes a law that allows law enforcement officials to interrogate suspects without the presence of a lawyer, and hold them for 5 days”
Why am I not surprised? Orban probably changed his bedroom picture of Imre Nagy to Rakosi. He is on its way to turn Hungary into what it once was. Isn’t that what he wanted? His speeches prior to 1990 will be very relevant soon, and he will have to arrest himself. The circle closes for a psychopath.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Jim: “The latest today, for readers of Hungarian: FIDESZ proposes a law that allows law enforcement officials to interrogate suspects without the presence of a lawyer, and hold them for 5 days”
This piece of news took my breath away. However, I heard an LMP or MSZP politician say that there is the possibility that they put this clearly unconstitutional provision into the law in order to be magnanimously scrapping it later when the opposition objects.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

someone: “I am not sure if I agree with letter. I do not think Hilary visiting Hungary would be a bad thing. She is well advised and she is tough.”
That is also a valid argument. My problem with it that the current Hungarian government really doesn’t listen to warnings coming from abroad. The fact that Orbán decided to boycott Obama’s visit in Warsaw shows that he really doesn’t care what the U.S. administration think of him or his regime.

Joe Simon
Guest

Hillary should be happy to come to Hungary. Happy because there will be soon a square in Buda to be named by Elvis Presley. Yes, the King. He still lives. In fact, there are Elvis Presley immitators here, complete with his trade-mark sideburns amd sun glasses. So any Americam should feel right at home in Hungary.

GDF
Guest
The author states that “relations with Romania are worse than ever”. It seems that until a very short time ago these relations have been quite good when compared to previous periods. Romania and Slovakia had different points of view on the dual citizenship issue because Romania also offered dual citizenship to citizens of Moldova (the former Basarabia, the former Soviet republic, now an independent state). The present Romanian parlamentary opposition was always opposed to the better Hungarian-Romanian relations. It seems that due to economic pressures and in view of future elections the governing party is beginning to approach the anti-Hungarian populist position, this may lead to the departure of the RMDSZ’s (the Democratic Coalition of Hungarians in Romania) from the governing coalition. This would probably be considered a positive development by the Orban regime. They dislike the liberal RMDSZ and prefer the more nationalistically oriented group of Bishop Laszlo Tokes, group that is in the the process of forming its own party. Many observer think that the splitting of the Hungarians in Romania (in great part due to the machinations of FIDESZ) will lead to the reduction of the number of Hungarians in the Romanian parlament and thus the reduction… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

GDF: “The author states that “relations with Romania are worse than ever”. It seems that until a very short time ago these relations have been quite good when compared to previous periods.”
I think that the emphasis is on “until a very short time ago.” The setting up of the Székelyföld Bureau in Brussels made a very negative impression in Romania. The Romanian government actually asked the Hungarian officials not to attend its opening. But they did anyway. The present government usually does what it wants and listens not at all to others.

Kirsten
Guest

I like this sentence: “Foreign Minister János Martonyi, my boss, still favors the European Union while Prime Minister Orbán rants and raves against it even though Hungary held the EU’s Presidency this year.”
Good to read that about Martonyi. I am surprised that Hillary Clinton intends to come to Budapest to open the institute, certainly she will have also other obligations there. In any case, some more or less explicit words on what democracy is about could perhaps be more powerful than neglecting Hungary. Those who want to listen, will do so (if she does not come, nobody will care about what she could have said). Democracy will not be restored because Hungarians might feel ashamed that Hillary Clinton sent a low-rank official (OV certainly will find a suitable explanation for it, for instance that apparently Americans too are not too fond of Mr Lantos). Perhaps the author could try to get in touch with some other dissatisfied people. There is no other way how to save the “very real chance in the next few years to restore a democratic political order”.

Ivan
Guest
I don’t think she should go. Wrongly, the visit will be spun and claimed as support for what is going on here – and this new nationalist regime. And the outside world really needs to be a little more aware of what actually IS going on. The BBC, many people’s first port of call, is certainly not going to tell them much at present. Amazing events are either not covered or covered in a very watered-down way (the frankly insane and anti-democratic idea of giving mothers extra votes for their offspring, for example, was described by the BBC correspondent on a prime time news show as ‘playful’ and ‘creative’). And shouldn’t the matter of the Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament justifying military action against its neighbouring (and fellow European Union) country have garnered more international coverage? And so the world needs actual gestures, I believe, in order to take an ethical interest and go on to apply pressure. Besides, is Hillary aware of just how much abuse was been hurled at Tom Lantos over recent years by many Hungarians? Hillary not attending for clearly stated reasons, as detailed in this letter, would be more newsworthy than her attending. The best… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Ivan: “The BBC, many people’s first port of call, is certainly not going to tell them much at present. Amazing events are either not covered or covered in a very watered-down way (the frankly insane and anti-democratic idea of giving mothers extra votes for their offspring, for example, was described by the BBC correspondent on a prime time news show as ‘playful’ and ‘creative’.”
What do you expect from Nick Thorpe? He is the Budapest correspondent of BBC and a devotee of Fidesz.

Paul
Guest

From the amount of personal detail revealed in this letter, I wouldn’t think it would take Fidesz long to work out who the sender is.
He/she could have achieved the exactly the same effect without revealing any significant details about themselves.
Brave – but foolish.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul: “He/she could have achieved the exactly the same effect without revealing any significant details about themselves. Brave – but foolish.”
Of course it is possible that the details given are purposely misleading.

Johnny Boy
Guest

I’m not calling this guy a traitor, whoever he is. If he indeed works in Martonyi’s ministry, that only shows Martonyi’s weakness for not sacking someone who is so obviously a political enemy of the current government.
But I rather think the author is a fly-on-the-wheel journalist from Népszava or some similar low-standard sewage channel.
It always happens, those who hate Orbán and his government do everything in their power to discredit them with false/real/whatever letters and international relations, no matter, or rather, in particular, if they lie in the process.
It all comes down to how the government can counteract these political attacks. If they manage to, Hillary may just come here and hold a speech that shows she retained sanity and doesn’t call it anti-semitism when God is mentioned in the preamble of the constitution.

Paul
Guest

I hope so, Éva, but somehow I doubt it.

Paul
Guest

“I’m not calling this guy a traitor”
And I’m not calling you a deviant, small minded, bigot.
So we’re both happy.
Interesting that JB sees mentioning God in a document as a pro-Semite sentiment. The twisted, labyrinthine weirdness of JB’s mind would keep a whole conference of psychologists going for weeks. It must be worth several doctorates, at least!

Johnny Boy
Guest

Paul probably you’re the only one in the world who knows what you’re jawing about.
If that pleases you, then all right.

Member

Johnny Boy: “It always happens, those who hate Orbán and his government do everything in their power to discredit them with false/real/whatever letters and international relations, no matter, or rather, in particular, if they lie in the process.” Are you in love with Orban or what is it? I think you are getting just a tiny bit obsessed.

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