Another American warning but the Hungarian government doesn’t listen

Yesterday Thomas O. Melia, deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the United States Department of State, expressed his concern about the new Hungarian constitution, the state of the media and, at the urging of a Republican congressman, the law on churches and religion before the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Although Melia emphasized that Hungary is an important member of the European Union and NATO, he pointed out that the current "one-party" Hungarian government is using its unprecedented two-thirds majority to implement changes in the constitution that would strengthen its power and would paralyze future democratic governments in handling new political, economic, and social challenges. He spent some time on the changes the government made in the composition of the Media Council and the heavy fines the Council can impose on articles deemed "unbalanced" or "offensive to human dignity." As for the law on the churches and religion, he suggested "a careful rethinking" of the law while the Hungarian government is working on the cardinal laws.

It took only a few hours after the news of the hearing reached Hungary for the usual rude answer to come from Péter Szijjártó, who is Viktor Orbán's personal spokesman. Although there are numerous complaints about his style, the Hungarian prime minister seems to be more than satisfied with Szijjártó talking in his name. A question of taste, I guess. But what can be expected from a man who thinks, as the prime minister of the country that held the presidency of the European Union in the first six months of the year, that he can "slap around" leading politicians of the European Union?

According to Szijjártó no one, inside of Hungary or abroad, "can question the will of the Hungarian people who authorized the government for the renewal and reorganization of the country." This means that no criticism of the government can be voiced at all. If taken literally, we are back in the Rákosi regime.

An hour later came Zoltán Kovács, whose original job was undersecretary in charge of communication in the Ministry of Administration and Justice but who lately also assumed the post of government spokesman for six months while the original appointee is on a leave of absence. Kovács was only a tad more diplomatic than Szijjártó. He claimed that "Melia's conclusions are based on superficial information and hostile distortions." As an example of Melia's ignorance he mentioned that the American diplomat was talking about a "one-party government" when "the Hungarian governement is led by an alliance of two parties, Fidesz Magyar Polgári Szövetség and the Kereszténydemokrata Néppárt." Now, that's a real laugh. In name indeed there is a party called the Christian Democratic People's Party, but it is a party that exists only in name. A certain number of Fidesz MP's were assigned to form a separate Christian Democratic caucus in order to have twice as many Fidesz members serving on the various parliamentary committees.

Kovács continued with his usual story which by now he should know by heart: the new Hungarian government's decisions are in perfect harmony with the best European traditions and standards. After all, the Venice Commission, after studying the text of the constitution, found that "this new Constitution established a constitutional order based on democracy, the rule of law and the protection of fundamental rights as underlying principles." Yes, it certainly said that, but it went on to criticize the constitution in the strongest terms on multiple points. Of course, Kovács didn't say a word about the criticisms.

Kovács also regurgitated his old claim that the European Council had demanded a few changes that were largely technical. Hungary obliged, and now everything is fine and dandy with the document. As we know, this is not the case. When he came to the law on the churches and religion, he sidestepped the issue of the fourteen recognized churches and the hundreds of others that cannot even use the word "church" in their names and talked instead about freedom of religion that is in no way being threatened.

At the end he expressed the Hungarian government's willingness, just as in the past, to give detailed information about "the activity of the Hungarian Parliament." If a true picture were given of the "activity" of the parliament to western politicians, they would be astonished at how bills are thrown together and sometimes changed completely in the last minute. In fact, the law on the churches and religion was constructed under the most bizarre circumstances. So, I think Mr. Kovács would very wise to keep the inner workings of parliament a secret. Because Hungarian lawmaking goes far beyond what prompted Bismarck's caution that "Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made."

Perhaps Tamás Deutsch, one of the founding members of Fidesz who is currently a member of the European Parliament, best typifies this crew's attitude toward others as well as the intellectual level of the top leadership of Fidesz. Deutsch lately became an avid participant in the world of Twitter. When Deutsch heard that Thomas Melia had expressed concern over the Hungarian constitution, the media law, and the law on churches and religion, he wrote the following: "Ki a fasz az a Thomas Melia?" (Who the f… is that Thomas Melia!) You may recall another beauty of Tamás Deutsch, also on Twitter. We had a long discussion about the meaning of one of the words that I wasn't familiar with. 

Well, I will explain to Tamás Deutsch who Thomas O. Melia is. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, he is currently deputy assistant secretary of state. Before he joined the State Department he was deputy executive director of Freedom House. Before that he was senior associate at Greenberg Quinlan Roser Research Inc. (2001-2002) and research associate and director of research at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy 92002-2005). He has been a key actor for the last twenty-five years in the development of policies that would strengthen democracy around the world. He is a writer and a university professor. He is recognized as an expert on foreign policy matters.

Some of Deutsch's friends in Fidesz may even remember him since he testified before the joint session of the Human Rights and the European Affairs Committees of the Hungarian Parliament in 2008.

I wish I could say that Tamás Deutsch is an aberration. Someone who mindlessly writes stupid and crass things on Twitter. But no. Unfortunately he is no exception. He fits in perfectly with the group that today is dragging the country into the gutter in more than one way.

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GW
Guest

“A certain number of Fidesz MP’s were assigned to form a separate Christian Democratic caucus in order to have twice as many Fidesz members serving on the various parliamentary committees.”
Do the leaders of the Christian Democratic “caucus” receive extra pay above their ordinary MP salaries and per diem? Do they recieve extra office space, staff, franking etc.?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

GW: “Do the leaders of the Christian Democratic “caucus” receive extra pay above their ordinary MP salaries and per diem? Do they recieve extra office space, staff, franking etc.?”
As far as I know MP’s receive extra pay for serving on committees. I also assume that the caucus has extra office space and staff.

Pete H.
Guest

Here is link to the full report of Melia: http://www.internationalrelations.house.gov/112/mel072611.pdf

Miklos Haraszti
Guest

Here is another warning from Mr. Melia’s report, addressed to Ukraine, that already could be meant for Hungary as well.
“As you know, former government officials, including former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, are facing prosecution. During my visit, I emphasized our concern about politically-motivated prosecutions of opposition figures and the potential impact on political competition. When the senior leadership of the preceding government – now in opposition – is the focus of prosecutions, out of proportion with other political figures, this creates the appearance of a political motive.”
http://www.internationalrelations.house.gov/112/mel072611.pdf

Odin's lost eye
Guest

The title of this piece “Another American warning but the Hungarian government doesn’t listen” does not surprise me. I the 9 to 10 years I have known Hungarians I have seldom found a Hungarian who listened to anything any non-Hungarian has said. As the Hungarians say “Extra Hungariam non est vita. Si est vita non est ita!” -There is no life outside Hungary. If there is life then it is not real life-.
I have met many Hungarian speaking Romanians and Slovakia who listened with great attention to foreigners and when they learned something new would often clap their hands together with delight, especially if it saved them effort or work. I think it is something cultural not genetic.
This Hungarian xenophobia is in the main due to their language. These people who speak a unique form of ‘Finno – Ugarit’ live surrounded by a sea of ‘Indo European’ speakers. Therefore the interchange of ideas with their neighbours becomes impossible. But I suppose when ignorance is ‘bliss’ it is folly to be wise!
If you do not heed advice from those who are your real friends, troubles may well come your way.

Johnny Boy
Guest

Should the government listen and refuse to utilize the majority it was given deliberately by the voters?
In my opinion: no!

Joe Simon
Guest

Yes, Orbán and FIDESZ should be a bit more humble and responsive to criticism. But did Melia utter one solitary word when Hedvig Melina was mistreated in Slovakia? While most western embassies raised their voices against any anti-gay sentiments and actions in Slovakia, not one western embassy protested against such flagrant abuses of human rights. ‘No comment’ when they were asked why they remained silent.

Joe Simon
Guest

Hungarian xenophobia? These comments by Melia are way off. Melia is entering into the dangerous mine-field of ethno-criticism that is simply not useful in trying to understand Hungary or indeed any country. This approach is very superficial and I am not surprised that Spectrum goes in tandem with this type of criticism.

Member
Johnny Boy: “Should the government listen and refuse to utilize the majority it was given deliberately by the voters? In my opinion: no!” Well, I am sure this is the kind of thinking that let WWII start. e National Socialist German Workers Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterparte was elected democratically. Many people (not all of course) wish we could go back and do something, or simply that some people, aome nations would of speak up when the warning signs were present. There is no shortage in ignorance when it comes to personal benefits. I have said this, and here it goes “Being elected democratically is only the first step on a hundred step ladder, and Orban has become stuck on that first step.” By the way there were many people in history who were elected democratically and look what happened when they used that privilege Joe Simon: In every country small groups of crazies exist, and yes they do mistreat others for various reasons or it is not a national trend, not the beginning of something larger. AT he same time only in second and third world countries the government builds his programs around polarizing its nation, and making enemies out… Read more »
Contre nous de la tyrannie
Guest
Contre nous de la tyrannie

I think that it is very important to understand that the American message is not coming from Democrats only.
Rep. Dan Burton the Chairman of the Subcommittee is a Republican congressman. He was worried about the new religion law and he asked Melia to write a letter to the Hungarian government. Some days ago, David Kramer, President of Freedom House mentioned Hungary (lack of Internet Freedom – the Nepszava comment case) in front of the Helsinki Commission. Mr Kramer was an undersecretary at the State Department during the Bush Administration.
No matter how many Reagan statues are in Budapest, the Republicans do not like dictatorships either. They are especially sensitive when it comes to freedom of press and religion.

Lutra lutra
Guest

Of course Orbán won’t listen – at least not until the Hungarian economy is in real crisis and party members and voters turn on him.
One of his role models appears to be Berlusconi, but then Hungary seems to have a history of warming to dodgy Italian short-arses.
As long as (on paper) the Italian economy was doing well, most of the public seemed to relish his upsetting opponents at home and critics abroad. Finally, with Italy on the brink of joining the EU bailout queue, his days in power are numbered.

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