Senator Benjamin L. Cardin’s statement on the Hungarian situation and what MTI made of it

I suggest a careful reading of these two texts. The first one is a statement by Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, co-chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, that was printed in the Congressional Record. The second is MTI's summary of it, which only marginally reflects the contents of Cardin's statement. You will notice that MTI picked out the few favorable references or those critical of the former governments and left out almost everything that was negative. I would also like to call your attention to the title of the MTI report, which suggests that this is just one senator's opinion. Another interesting turn of phrase can be found in the text when, introducing the paragraph about the government pushing through controversial pieces of legislation, MTI wrote: "Mr. Cardin believes…" Thus, it is not a fact but only the American senator's belief.

DEMOCRACY AT RISK IN HUNGARY — (Senate – July 05, 2011)

Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, this week in Budapest there are two events of particular interest to Americans. First, Hungary has unveiled a statue of President Ronald Reagan in front of the U.S. Embassy in honor of his contribution to the goal of ending communist repression and commemorating the 100th anniversary of his birth. Second, Hungary dedicated the Lantos Institute, named after Tom Lantos, our former colleague from the House of Representatives who worked tirelessly to promote democracy and human rights in the country of his birth. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Clinton have represented the United States at these respective events.

These gestures shine a light on Hungary's historic transformation as well as the close bonds between our two countries. Unfortunately, other developments in Hungary have cast a dark shadow over what should otherwise be happy occasions.

Last year, Hungary held elections in which a right-of-center party, FIDESZ, won a landslide, sweeping out eight years of socialist government rejected by many voters as scandal ridden and inept. With FIDESZ winning 52 percent of the vote, Hungary has the distinction of being the only country in Central Europe since the 1989 transformations where a single party has won an outright majority–not necessarily a bad thing, especially in a region where many governments are periodically hobbled by factionalism.

Those elections were also notable because more than 850,000 Hungarians–16 percent of the vote–cast their ballots for Jobbik, an anti-Semitic, anti-Roma, irredentist party. While Jobbik is an opposition party, it has clearly and negatively influenced public policy discourse.

Under Hungary's electoral system, FIDESZ's 52 percent of the vote has translated into a two-thirds majority of the seats in parliament. The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban has used that supermajority to push through one controversial initiative after another.

One initiative that has generated particularly sharp criticism is Hungary's new media law. The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media warned it could be used to silence critical media and public debate, it overly concentrates power in regulatory authorities, and it harms media freedom. In Ukraine, where democracy has put down only shallow roots, the Kyiv Post editorialized that "Hungary's media law should not come here.''

Another area of concern stems from the government's fixation on ethnic Hungarian identity and lost empire in ways that can only be seen as unfriendly by other countries in the region. One of the government's first acts was to amend Hungary's citizenship law to facilitate the acquisition of Hungarian citizenship by ethnic Hungarians in other countries–primarily Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine. This expansion of citizenship was pushed through even though, in a 2001 statement submitted to the Council of Europe, the Hungarian Government firmly renounced all aspirations for dual citizenship for ethnic Hungarians.

In a further escalation of provocative posturing, a few weeks ago Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament Laszlo Kovar [correctly Kövér] said that military force to change the borders with Slovakia–a NATO ally–would have been justified and, in any case, he added, the ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia are "ours.''

If one side of the nationalism coin is an excessive fixation on Hungarian ethnic identity beyond the borders, the other side is intolerance toward minorities at home. For example, one increasingly hears the argument, including from government officials, that while the Holocaust was a 20th-century tragedy for Jews, the worst tragedy for Hungarians was the 1920 Treaty of Trianon–the treaty that established the borders for the countries emerging from the defeated Austro-Hungarian Empire.

This comparison is offensive and disturbing. Ethnic Hungarians were never targeted for extermination or subjected to mass murder by Trianon. Moreover, this line of argument presents Hungarians and Jews as mutually exclusive. But more than 400,000 Jews were sent from Hungary to Auschwitz, and more than 10,000 Jews were shot along the banks of the Danube–were they not also Hungarian? How could this not be a tragedy for Hungary?

The government has also used its supermajority to adopt a completely new Constitution which has been reviewed by the Council of Europe's Venice Commission on Democracy through Law, a body of judicial experts.

The Venice Commission expressed particular concern with the requirement that numerous issues can now only be addressed through supermajority or so-called cardinal laws. In other words, "The more policy issues are transferred beyond the powers of simple majority, the less significance will future elections have and the more possibilities does a two-thirds majority have of cementing its political preferences and the country's legal order.''

In short, the Commission concluded, "the principle of democracy itself is at risk.''

This combines, by the way, with a court-packing scheme–the expansion of the size of the Constitutional Court from 11 to 15–and a reduction of the retirement age for ordinary judges from 70 to 62, which will reportedly mean 10 percent of all judges will be replaced.

To make exactly clear what he has intended with these reforms, Prime Minister Orban declared that he wants to tie the hands not only of the next government, but of the next 10 governments–that is, future Hungarian governments for the next 40 years.

It is no wonder then that in Freedom House's latest "Nations in Transit'' survey, released this week, Hungary had declined in ratings for civil society, independent media, national democratic governance, and judicial framework and independence.

Ironically, just as attention shifts to the tantalizing possibility of democratic reform in the Middle East, the red flags in Budapest keep multiplying: Transparency International has warned that transferring the power to appoint the Ombudsman from the parliament to the president means that he or she will not be independent of the executive. NGOs have warned that a new draft religion law may result in a number of religions losing their registration. Restrictions by Hungarian authorities on pro-Tibet demonstrations during last week's visit to Budapest of the Chinese Premier were seen as an unnecessary and heavyhanded limitation of a fundamental liberty. Plans to recall soldiers and police from retirement so that they may oversee Romani work battalions have predictably caused alarm.

In 1989, Hungary stood as an inspiration for democracy and human rights advocates around the globe. Today, I am deeply troubled by the trends there. I understand that it sometimes takes new governments time to find their bearings, and I hope that we will see some adjustments in Budapest. But in the meantime, I hope that other countries looking for transformative examples will steer clear of this Hungarian model.

* * *

An American senator’s opinion on the state of Hungarian democracy

The unveiling of the Reagan statue and the opening of the Tom Lantos Institute last week were gestures that clearly demonstrate the historic significance of Hungary's transformation and the close relationship between the two countries. However, other Hungarian developments cast a shadow on these joyful occasions. This is what Benjamin Cardin, an American Democratic senator, wrote in a statement that appeared in the Congressional Record.

After the majority of Hungarians found the socialists unfit to lead the country and considered their eight-year-long governance scandalous, at the parliamentary elections last year the right-of-center Fidesz won with a landslide that resulted in the two-thirds majority in the legislature. Such a large majority is not necessarily a bad thing in a region where domestic quarrels can paralyze governments. At the same time it is significant that the far-right Jobbik party received 16% of the votes and, although it is not in the government, it clearly negatively influences political discourse.

Cardin believes [vélte] that since the elections a year ago, Viktor Orbán’s government used its two-thirds majority to push through a series of controversial pieces of legislation.  He mentioned the media law, the initiative on dual citizenship, the new constitution, and the opinion of the Venice Commission. He also mentioned the enlargement of the Constitutional Court.

Cardin concluded his statement by saying that “Hungary served as an inspiration in 1989 as the defender of human rights and democracy. Now, however, I am worried about the Hungarian developments. I know that sometimes it is difficult for a new government to find the right direction and therefore I hope that there will be certain corrections in Budapest. But at the same time I also hope that countries currently looking for models for their own transformation will keep themselves away from this Hungarian model.”

 

 * * *

I'm happy to announce that after MTI's summary was published yesterday, an accurate Hungarian translation of Cardin's text was published in Galamus (www.galamus.hu). Unfortunately, Galamus has only 6,000-7,000 readers while many newspapers, both print and electronic, simply took over MTI's summary. They are either lazy or naively think that what MTI publishes about foreign opinions of Hungary still has something to do with reality.

 

* * *

And finally, politics.hu published the English version that MTI released today of the summary of Cardin's statement. This version is slightly different from the Hungarian version. So, here is the latest. I indicate in blue the major differences. It is obvious that in English MTI doesn't dare to distort the text as blatantly as it does in Hungarian. It added a few instances of questionable measures.

* * *

US Senator warns “democracy at risk” in Hungary

The co-chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission on Thursday expressed concern over recent government measures in Hungary and gave warning that “democracy is at risk” in the country.

In a statement published in the Congressional Record, Democrat Senator Benjamin L Cardin said while events during Transatlantic Week last week have reflected strong ties between the US and Hungary, there have been other developments overshadowing these relations.

While Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s two-thirds majority support in government is “not necessarily a bad thing”, Cardin said “the Orban government has used that supermajority to push through one controversial initiative after another.” Among such initiatives he mentioned the media law, the citizenship law and the new constitution, as well as changes to the Constitutional Court, measures to reduce early retirement for soldiers and police officers and changes to the ombudsman system.

The statement also mentions that “restrictions by Hungarian authorities on pro-Tibet demonstrations during last week’s visit to Budapest of the Chinese Premier were seen as unnecessary and heavyhanded”.

“In 1989, Hungary stood as an inspiration for democracy and human rights advocates around the globe. Today, I am deeply troubled by the trends there. (…) I hope that other countries looking for transformative examples will steer clear of this Hungarian model,” the statement said.

Ildiko Lendvai, the opposition Socialist member of parliament’s human rights committee, said in response that “it gives us no pleasure that Hungarian citizens must more and more often be defended from abroad against their own government.”

* * *

 Take your pick which version you prefer! The whole affair is outrageous.


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-haldoklik-a-nemzet-megint
Guest
-haldoklik-a-nemzet-megint

With the exceptions of Ferenc Deak, Istvan Szechenyi, there are only corrupt extremists in politics.
All for the free money perhaps?

Member

Maybe the people who work in the MTI don’t want to loose their jobs. We can see what happens to those who do not bend over to Fidesz. I hope that the distorted text actually will end up on Senator Cardin’s desk. This could be a very serious diplomatic issue that would require the republishing of the original text with the true translation, not the Fidesz’ Readers Digest version. Of course Fidesz will say that someone made a mistake, just like with the Hungarian grammar in Schmitt’s speech.

Johnny Boy
Guest

MTI apparently shortened the critical part significantly. But it is true that all important points are mentioned.
And I must say that the brevity of the text has one big advantage: people are more likely to read over it. In its original form, I doubt anyone would comprehensively read it except from the writer himself.
Also, MTI could have added a few references to the “Hungarian” “Socialist” “Party”‘s press releases to make their report even shorter as all of “Cardin’s” critical statements are replications of MSZP propaganda.
Or, to make the report even shorter while still sticking to the truth, they could have worded the following short release:
“Senator Cardin believes that democracy is in peril in Hungary because the left-liberals have lost power.”
But, I admit, this could have been a too digested form of the original information, faithful though the representation of the message is.
And I must too call attention of the persistent wording like “controversial” or “disputed”, used to convey a negative meaning.
As if in democracy it wouldn’t be natural to have debates, even fiery ones, on particular matters. These expressions are malignant and exclusively used for manipulation only.

Paul
Guest

I was actually surprised at just how much ‘negative’ stuff survived. But then the original text was so comprehensively critical that they would have ended up with a very short article indeed if they’d cut out all the criticisms!
One lovely echo of Soviet times though – “After the majority of Hungarians found the socialists unfit to lead the country and considered their eight-year-long governance scandalous…” Where’s that in the original text?!

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul “”After the majority of Hungarians found the socialists unfit to lead the country and considered their eight-year-long governance scandalous…” Where’s that in the original text?!”
Of course, nowhere. That’s why I asked you to read the texts very carefully.

Johnny Boy
Guest

Paul: ” Where’s that in the original text?!”
Let me quote:
“Last year, Hungary held elections in which a right-of-center party, FIDESZ, won a landslide, sweeping out eight years of socialist government rejected by many voters as scandal ridden and inept.”
Do you see a significant difference in meaning? I don’t.

Paul
Guest
SB, you actually have my sympathy on this one, as you are fighting an almost impossible corner. And for once you did it in a fairly moderate tone – which is to your credit, considering that we all know where your sympathies lie. But I must pick you up on a couple of points: First, the original is actually perfectly readable. The spoken/written English is very good and easy to read, the speech isn’t too long, the points are well, and succinctly, made, and the language isn’t too ‘loose’. It’s a pity more Hungarians won’t read it, as it makes out a very good case for serious concern over what OV is doing. OK, it’s not a serious academic essay, so it misses citations and references, which would have been nice, but I’m pretty certain there isn’t much in that speech that couldn’t actually be supported with reliable references. (Not that I’m volunteering to do that!). Secondly, I think even you know that “Senator Cardin believes that democracy is in peril in Hungary because the left-liberals have lost power.” is not an accurate summary of the piece. In logical terms, democracy now being in peril in Hungary can ONLY be… Read more »
Pete H.
Guest
“As if in democracy it wouldn’t be natural to have debates, even fiery ones, on particular matters.” I got quite a laugh out this JBism. The point lost of course is that the removal of checks and balances stifles one form of political debate by giving the opposition fewer avenues to contest the ruling party’s proposals. The media law stifles yet another form of debate. Hauling in the Tibetan’s the day of the Chinese visit is yet another act of curtailing opposition. Drawing up proposals without input from the opposition and passing them as the law of the land within days with little or no debate is another way to stifle debate. Etc., etc., etc……. It is good to see more and more voices speaking up in defense of democracy in Hungary. Of the 100 or so Hungarians I met this summer, only one voiced support of OV. Regardless of their position in the political spectrum many expressed the same general opinion as the senator. Hungarians are unhappy with the current regime and Fidesz’s steep slide in the polls is independent evidence of that fact. I hope some way is found to focus outside pressure with internal opposition to pull… Read more »
Member

“Do you see a significant difference in meaning? I don’t.”
But then why changing it? Are these guys payed to cheat? Perhaps payed by the sentences altered? Do they have a quota or something??

Paul
Guest

OK, SB, I concede that one – sloppy reading on my part.
By the way, in case my comments appear out of sequence, the ruddy Typepad time warp is getting me tonight!

Paul
Guest

And talking of Typepad problems – sometimes the text input in the ‘Post a comment’ box really slows down, but tonight is the worst I have ever experienced. I have to wait for many seconds before the text displayed in the box catches up with what I’ve typed. And I am NOT a fast typist!
A couple of times tonight I’ve gone to the kitchen to get a drink, only to find on my return that what I’ve typed is still slowly appearing in the text box, one character at a time!
A few times I’ve actually had to abandon Typepad altogether and type my replies in Word, only copying them in when I’ve finished. In fact I’ve just had to switch to Word now, as that last sentence was appearing at slower than one letter a second!!
Does anyone else have this problem? It could just be down to my archaic computer, but usually it’s only things like videos I have any trouble with.

Member

I would rather suspect your browser for the slow typing. Try another browser.

Guest

Senator Cardin is my senator and I have just sent his office a link to this blog.

koeszmeod
Guest

Johnny Boy wrote “Cardin’s critical statements are replications of MSZP propaganda.”
Not really. The following quote is from Zoltan Kovacs State Secretary of Communications who visited Washington some weeks ago.
“the Holocaust was a 20th-century tragedy for Jews, the worst tragedy for Hungarians was the 1920 Treaty of Trianon.”
No need for any socialist propaganda. People are shocked by this sentence.

peter litvanyi
Guest

Thanks Gretchen.
We need to work here rather than just chat.
You have a good senator.
Peter Litvanyi
Boulder, CO.

Odin's lost eye
Guest

A bit off topic. I always use MS Word then cut and paste. My typing is so bad and my spelling is so atrocious (or would be if I could spell it). Remember the problem with Typepad may well be ‘file locking’ and time sharing.
Johnny Boy You write ** “”Senator Cardin believes that democracy is in peril in Hungary because the left-liberals have lost power.” **.
No Senator Cardin knows that democracy is in peril in Hungary because the Fidesz is abusing its super majority to entrench its self in power and create a one person state.
Democrats do not create Autocrats!

Johnny Boy
Guest
Paul: “I realise you are struggling here to come up with anything to support your views” Not at all. Why do you think that? Supporting my views don’t consist of trying to counter the senator’s statements. I consider them so obviously biased and basically untrue that they don’t even qualify. It isn’t even worth putting much effort into supporting my views in this case because such statements are so overused and overdue that the vast majority of the people don’t even pay any attention to them any more. “In logical terms, democracy now being in peril in Hungary can ONLY be a product of the incoming government, not the fault of those who have lost power.” My sentence was cynical but considering the last 20 years, this is what grew on me as my conviction. No matter which right-wing government won the elections, throughout their whole tenure democracy was always ‘in peril’, even the arguments were and are always the same. And on top of this, this is said by those who support the governments of the close ancestors of the anti-democratic MSZMP. koeszmeod: “People are shocked by this sentence.” Completely untrue. People are not shocked by this sentence, Hungarians… Read more »
Kirsten
Guest
“In its original form, I doubt anyone would comprehensively read it except from the writer himself.” Johnny, I was not too challenged too to go through the whole text and would strongly advice you not to shy away from longer texts, some ideas become clearer when you get more information about what might be meant. Is MTI responsible for the translation of the document? Is there any place that has the obligation to translate it in full? I think that the translation does conveys that Senator Cardin was critical, and to add the sentence of Mrs Lendvai is more than I would have expected (if it was not added to find her in jail soon). But MTI for instance fully skipped the part with “the 20st century tragedy” for Hungarians as opposed to that of the Hungarian Jews, which I consider to be very prominent in the text of Senator Cardin. And (because if you have to be brief, information gets lost) it is one thing to say “the Senator was critical” and another to state explicitly what is critical (cardinal laws) and why (too little influence of the parliament) etc. I actually laughed at the paragraph with Laszlo Köver,… Read more »
Johnny Boy
Guest

“Johnny, I was not too challenged too to go through the whole text”
I read it through too, only to find a more comprehensive explanation of untrue claims. It isn’t worth it.
On the whole, the senator is condemning Hungary for doing what every single other country does: defending national interests. Such letters cannot be taken seriously. This letter is a provocation. If we have a dispute with Slovakia, defending national interests means sticking to our point of view if justified and not giving it up for the sake of ‘not hurting our neighbour’ when that same neighbour is taking every opportunity to hit at us even with incorrect and false claims.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Gretchen: “Senator Cardin is my senator and I have just sent his office a link to this blog.”
Thank you, Gretchen

Kirsten
Guest

Johnny: “If we have a dispute with Slovakia, defending national interests means sticking to our point of view”
The point is that the EU is a platform that allows a different way how disputes are dealt with from other platforms, in particular medieval ones but also those that prevailed until WWII. One worries a bit whether this piece of information (that we are not in the Middle Ages but neither in the times of the European great powers anymore) has been taken notice of. What does this “defending our national interests” mean? Could you direct me to a source (can be in Hungarian) that explains what in the interpretation of Fidesz is the Hungarian national interest? Orszagkepepites? I am starting to believe that although St Stephen who is credited with having “established Hungarians as a respected European nation” is considered a national hero, those who admire him the most are doing their utmost to establish that their “national interests” lie in other regions of the world. At least it does not appear to be too important to establish good relations with the other European countries.

Johnny Boy
Guest

“Could you direct me to a source (can be in Hungarian) that explains what in the interpretation of Fidesz is the Hungarian national interest?”
Are you seriously asking this question?
Look up any statements from Fidesz politicians, mainly from Semjén who is charged with such issues. For example, lending a helping hand to ethnic Hungarians living in the neighbouring countries. This alone makes our neighbours outraged, but are they right? Of course no. Must we support those ethnic Hungarians? Of course yes.
This is a no-brainer and I frankly am offended when anyone questions out right for doing so. Every healthy nation is doing so and those condemning us for it are trying to make Hungarians an unhealthy nation. Among them this senator.

Member

I would like to point out that many people who I know in Hungary (some from Transylvania), who are Fidesz supporters were appealed by comparing Trianon to the Holocaust. To say that that the murder of 450000 Hungarian Jews is a deeper tragedy then Trianon (where no Hungarians died) is outrageous. It is not a Hungarian view it is those Hungarians view who posses an Übermensch syndrome. THis syndrome is exactly that lead to Trianon and lead Hungary down the antidemocratic measures that installed after Fidesz took power. THe theory is to protect the interest of the “real Hungarians”. The concept of real Hungarians exist only in the minds of the leaders of Fidesz and their faithful followers (also for Jobbik that takes it a step further.)
By the way, not one English Canadian or quebecouis would compare the Quebec and English conflict to the killing of the natives. When I say not one I also include Canada’s own terrorists in 1970, the FLQ.

Member

Poor Tom Lantos will be turning in his grave. For the First Annual Conference on Democracy and Human Rights organized by the Tom Lantos Institute, the International Center for Democratic Transition, and the Hungarian Foreign Ministry the list of people invited included Ahmed Ezz El-Arab, a vice chairman of Egypt’s Wafd Party. (I wonder if taxpayers paid for his travel, room and board.) So, who is El-Arab? A holocaust denier, a person who says that Anna Frank’s Diary is a hoax, 9/11 was organized by the Jews and the CIA, Obama was handpicked by Bush to follow him, and so forth.
So of course the USA has grave concerns about the events that are taking place under the watchful eyes of Fidesz.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Some1: “(I wonder if taxpayers paid for his travel, room and board.)”
I’m almost certain that the Institute, i.e., the Hungarian government paid his expenses.

Member

Recent interview (in Budapest) in the Washington Times the conservative counterpart of The Post:
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/jul/5/egypt-party-leader-holocaust-is-a-lie/
We (conference in Budapest) are mentioned again in the wrong context …

magyarok-rabok-vagytok
Guest
magyarok-rabok-vagytok

Orban’s real roots are the socialist/communist dictatorship.
how can millions of hungarians support the same dictatorship in changing colors: horthysm, rakosism, kadarism, orbanism?
and trianon was the real tragedy?
while 99.9% of the hungarians never studied the affair.
the slovak-romanian local relationship slowly improving and and is getting quite civilized.
the budapest politics is getting uncivilized by the minutes…. under fidesz/jobbik alliance.
where is the national outrage against the hateful jobbik’s patriotism dripping from extremism?

kis fiu
Guest

Of course to have a reasonable debate, we should agree on what the facts are. I wonder which factual statements of the Senator are “basically untrue.” I am actually quite curious. It is possible of course to agree with all the factual statements and disagree with the conclusion of the letter, but as far as I can tell this is not JBs position. (Except he has admitted that in his circle the Holocaust was not a Hungarian tragedy… the implication being that Hungarian Jews are not really Hungarians I suppose.)

Johnny Boy
Guest
“I wonder which factual statements of the Senator are “basically untrue.”” Ok, just for the fun of it as I have some time on my hands. I added comments to a few places to make my point more understandable. 1. “DEMOCRACY AT RISK IN HUNGARY”: The letter’s title 2. “it could be used to silence critical media and public debate, it overly concentrates power in regulatory authorities, and it harms media freedom” 3. “the government’s fixation on ethnic Hungarian identity and lost empire in ways that can only be seen as unfriendly by other countries in the region” 4. “2001 statement submitted to the Council of Europe, the Hungarian Government firmly renounced all aspirations for dual citizenship for ethnic Hungarians.”: that 2001 statement only speaks about the “státustörvény” and declares that this law doesn’t aim to give dual citizenship. This statement has nothing to do with any another law (let alone then-future laws). 5. “In a further escalation of provocative posturing…” and its follow-up intentionally omits the very significant attribute of time when the statement was said, to falsify the facts. 6. “an excessive fixation on Hungarian ethnic identity beyond the borders” 7. “intolerance toward minorities at home” 8. “one… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

JB: “4. “2001 statement submitted to the Council of Europe, the Hungarian Government firmly renounced all aspirations for dual citizenship for ethnic Hungarians.”: that 2001 statement only speaks about the “státustörvény” and declares that this law doesn’t aim to give dual citizenship.”
Unfortunately, you are wrong. The Hungarian government did assure the Venice Commission at the time of first controversy about giving special status to Hungarians in the neighboring countries that it has no intention ever of giving dual citizenship to Hungarians.

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