Yesterday afternoon I received a brief note from a friend who is knowledgeable about the events of the late 1980s when Viktor Orbán and his college friends were only dreaming of a regime change. The note referred briefly to the fact that Thomas Melia, who at the time was just about thirty years old–only six years older than Viktor Orbán, worked for NDI (National Democratic Institute), an independent, nongovernmental organization that has been supporting democratic institutions and practices since its founding in 1983. During 1989 and 1990 he, together other activists of NDI, was giving advice to members of various dissident organizations and newly formed parties on how multi-party democracy works and how they should prepare themselves for the time when they can have a voice in governing.
My friend, as usual, was well informed. Today Origo, a respectable on-line newspaper, came out with an interesting article about the relationship between Melia and Fidesz at the time of the regime change. Melia was in charge of NDI's East-Central Europe operations. NDI was very active in Hungary, as in other countries of the region, where its associates were helping the new democratic parties prepare themselves for the elections.
Origo interviewed Gábor Fodor, one of the founding members of Fidesz, who remembered Melia and others from NDI. The Institute organized training sessions and, according to Fodor, the NDI activists were especially fond of the young Fidesz crew. NDI not only taught Fidesz about the techniques of a democratic election campaign but it also financed trips for Fidesz delegations to the United States. According to Fodor, Melia was the key NDI player in Hungary. Fodor considered him "an excellent and skilled man, who knew Central Europe well." Melia visited Hungary several times and Fodor met him often. Fodor is 99% certain that Tamás Deutsch met Melia but "if not, surely he had to be familiar at least with his name."
Endre Hahn, today managing director of Medián, a polling company, also remembers Melia well. The preparation of the parties for the 1990 elections was "a long process" and some of the training sessions were held in a Lake Balaton hotel. Thus, the Hungarians had plenty of opportunity to get to know the activists of NDI, among them Melia. Fodor did concede that because Deutsch didn't speak any foreign language he had difficulty making contact with foreigners. (And here is a member of the European Parliament who doesn't speak any language except his mother tongue. How useful he must be in Brussels! Just like his fellow Fidesz EMP who, although he claimed that he spoke English, when some Hungarian youngsters phoned him pretending to be foreign correspondents he could only mutter out a few words and quickly hung up the phone. He must be very useful in Brussels too. If anyone would like to have a good laugh, here are three "conversations" with Mr. Áder in English just before he became a member of the European Parliament.)
But let's go back to Thomas Melia's connections to Hungary. In 1992 NDI published an edited volume entitled The New Democratic Frontier: A Country by Country Report on Elections in Central and Eastern Europe, 1992. It was Thomas Melia who wrote the lengthy (35 pages) piece on Hungary. Although in 1993 his interest shifted from East-Central Europe to the Near East, he kept in touch with his Hungarian friends. He visited Hungary and followed events there. For example, when János Martonyi visited Washington in 2000, at the end of his stay there was a conference where participants in the events of 1989-1990 recalled those exciting days of regime change. Thomas Melia was one of the speakers.
As my friend remarked yesterday, when Melia was training Orbán and his friends how to undermine the communist regime they surely didn't mind interference in Hungary's domestic affairs. But now they are outraged. It is not Melia who has changed but they–that is, if they ever were democrats.
Origo naturally wanted to get in touch with Tamás Deutsch, who not surprisingly wasn't available. However, NDI promised to give some details about Thomas Melia's activities in Hungary. So, I assume that this is not the end of the story as far as the Hungarian media is concerned.