The American ambassador sent a message to the Orbán government

Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis, U.S. ambassador to Hungary, published an op/ed piece in Magyar Nemzet. The choice of the newspaper was most appropriate. Most Fidesz supporters don't read any papers except Magyar Nemzet or perhaps Magyar Hírlap. And the message was for them and the government they support.

Surely, Magyar Nemzet couldn't refuse to publish the American ambassador's article, but it made sure that only relatively few people would have the opportunity to read the piece in its entirety. They didn't include it in the on-line edition.

It seems that the U.S. State Department had enough of the rude rejection of any and all criticism from the United States or for that matter from anywhere else. I'm certain that in the wake of Hillary Clinton's critical words at the joint press conference with Viktor Orbán on June 30 after "a frank private talk," U.S. diplomats following Hungarian events thought that the Hungarian government would tone down its confrontational communication style and would avoid too blatant an exhibition of its anti-democratic policies.

Nothing of the sort happened. The Orbán government ignored Hillary Clinton's words of warning. There was no discernible change in either its communication or its governing style. About a week later Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, co-chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission (www.csce.gov), filed a statement in the Congressional Record entitled "Democracy at Risk in Hungary." Official Hungary didn't respond, but Heti Válasz published an article with a title that most likely indicates the reaction of the Orbán government. The title read: "Ill-tempered statement about Hungary: Consternation over the politician's words. Why is the American senator attacking Hungary?" The article, again most likely reflecting the government's position, was convinced that Senator Cardin was "misled by Hungarian opposition politicians and intellectuals who visit Washington often." These "interviews" harm American-Hungarian relations.

Three weeks later, on July 26, Thomas O. Melia, assistant undersecretary of state, expressed his doubts about the Hungarian constitution and the laws on the media and church affairs before a congressional hearing of the Committee on Foreign Affairs on the state of democracy in Eastern Europe. It was at this point that the Hungarian government actually responded to the repeated American warnings. The reaction was anything but friendly. Basically, although at different levels of politeness, all those who in an official capacity talked about Melia's testimony told the Americans to mind their own business.

And now comes the U.S. ambassador. As is usual in such communiqués Tsakopuolos Kounalakis starts off all sweetness and light. Because of Hungary's excellent democratic record in the past twenty years the United States "expects Hungary to be more than an ordinary democracy but to be the torchbearer and champion of democracy."

According to Tsakopuolos Kounalakis Hungarians can be proud of their achievements. They can be proud of their peaceful transition from dictatorship to democracy and that a "lively democracy"  was built in the country. In deference to Viktor Orbán and perhaps also to remind him of his past, the ambassador mentioned that "among those excellent leaders"  of this transitional period was Viktor Orbán himself. 

It is therefore not surprising that "a wide array of critics of the Fidesz government" asked the leading Hungarian politicians to zealously guard and respect the democratic institutions. This is in the interest of the country and would also ensure that Hungary remains a model for the world. But Tsakopuolos Kounalakis went further when she alluded to the fact that the Hungarian government's reaction to criticism is always an accusation of misinformation and/or political motivation. Such behavior is not appropriate toward those who have an interest in the continued strength of Hungarian democracy. She reminded the government that even some Fidesz politicians recognized "the danger of believing that we are smarter than anyone else and that we know everything best." Here she was referring to Zoltán Pokorni, one of the deputy chairmen of Fidesz, who included these rather startling words in his speech at the last Fidesz party congress.

Tsakopuolos Kounalakis reminded the Hungarian government of what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had to say about the misuse of the two-thirds majority and wondered whether Hungary under the circumstances could remain faithful to its own democratic traditions. Hillary Clinton asked for true commitment to the independence of the judiciary, freedom of the press, and governmental transparency.

The American ambassador, making sure that the Hungarian government realizes that she speaks for "other friendly countries" as well, called for special care in the creation of the cardinal laws. The government should spare no time or energy in writing those laws in such a way that they would ensure the continued existence of Hungarian democracy. She also mentioned the fear that as a result of the new constitution "such a regime would come into being that would favor one party for ever."

Finally, she brought up an American example that might be useful for the Hungarians in these difficult times. From a historical perspective, Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal is considered a great success in handling the economic crisis of the 1930s, but FDR introduced certain pieces of legislation that were deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. "It was the duty of the judiciary to remind the president that checks and balances are deeply rooted in and an essential part of democracy."

Will the Hungarian government's reaction to this criticism be more positive than to earlier warnings? I doubt it, especially in light of what Zoltán Kovács, undersecretary in charge of communication, had to say to György Bolgár in his radio program "Let's talk it over" on July 29. Bolgár remarked that during the tenure of the Orbán government there has been a tendency to diminish the role of checks and balances. At this point Kovács became animated. He reminded Bolgár that he is a historian by training and every time he hears about checks and balances in the Hungarian context he becomes really angry. Because the Hungarian regime is basically different from the American system. Hungary has a parliamentary system in which "the center of gravity is the parliament." In this case "one can speak of checks and balances only indirectly."

So, the answer will be, even if not expressly formulated, that you Americans are ignorant. You don't even know how a parliamentary system works. Of course, it is also possible that there will be no reaction whatsoever to the American ambassador's op/ed piece.

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Member

The official version can be found on the Hungarian US Embassy’s web:
A Values Based Alliance. Op-Ed by Ambassador Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis, Magyar Nemzet, August 3, 2011
http://hungary.usembassy.gov/kounalakis_08032011.html

Johnny Boy
Guest

Do you really think the government should bow to each and every pressurizing attempt?
How on Earth do you imagine an independent country’s government?
I’m eager to see your response but I don’t think I’ll get one.

Member

Johnny, there is no pressure in this. This is just another stern warning that pretty much the whole world thinks that the FIDESz is overreaching. They should learn from the criticism.
“It’s always the retard with the flamethrower” as the saying goes.

Charles Gati
Guest
The answer to Johnny Boy is that independence and sovereignty are important features of international law and relations, but they’re not absolute. Integration, interdependence, globalization, membership in international organizations such as the the EU, NATO, and the UN all compete for nations’ and citizens’ loyalties. This is why we speak of relative independence and relative sovereignty. And this is why it’s OK for the Hungarian government to speak out on behalf of the condition of ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia and Romania, keeping in mind that ultimate decisions in those countries will be made by the Slovak and the Romanian governments. It’s also OK for the Hungarian government to criticize the shameful treatment of foreign prisoners by the United States. The Helsinki Final Act was signed in the 1970s to allow signatories to express their concerns about violations of human rights. Subsequently the US Congress created the bipartisan Helsinki Commission to follow up on issues of human rights. Senator Cardin’s statement was in that vein and in that tradition. As Eva correctly points out, the Hungarian government’s reaction to Cardin’s statement, to Melia’s testimony, and to Secretary Clinton’s Budapest speech has not been encouraging. The US Ambassador op-ed will be rejected… Read more »
United for Democracy in Hungary
Guest
United for Democracy in Hungary

Join United for Democracy in Hungary on Facebook!
“The time has come to stand up for democracy in Hungary!
We come from every corner of the world.
We do not believe in media censorship.
We do not believe in forced labor.
We do not believe in limits on religious freedom.
We do not believe in political witch-hunts.
We do not believe in retroactive laws.
We do not believe in limits on the rights of the accused.
We believe in democracy, and we stand united in support of true democracy in Hungary”
https://www.facebook.com/insights/?sk=po_237662222935447#!/pages/United-for-Democracy-in-Hungary/237662222935447?sk=wall

Member
Hungary is not on a separate planet, it is not on its own continent, and it is not self-sufficient. For that matter no country in this Earth is self-sufficient. Hungary is in trade relations with more and less developed countries. Moral and ethical differences do exist between countries, and more specifically between third world and first world countries. First world countries took upon themselves to guide and help nations that are developing. THis help comes in in many forms. Hungary is not a first world country. Not now. Hungary freely choose to become a member country of the Nato, the European Union, and to take membership of International organizations. These memberships come with responsibilities, not only with benefits. It is not a one way contract. Hungary is simply not such a great prize for the US or for any developed nations. Why Hungary is important is simply because more developed nations want peace on Earth. It is simple as that. To have peace on Earth it requires balance internally or unrest will happen, and externally or war will break out. One country can affect more than the dinner table of Viktor Orban. THe US and the EU has every right… Read more »
bankrupted-hungary-of-fidesz-jobbik
Guest
bankrupted-hungary-of-fidesz-jobbik

it is time to speak about the loss of freedom in hungary.
civil servants are becoming the dull followers of the orban clique.
ordinary people suffer abuse at every level.
rudeness is back with vengeance.
the idiotic hacks of the fidesz and jobbik propaganda will ruin hungary again.
their victims will fill some nice spots in cemeteries.
these are not the ideals an Istvan Angyal fought for.
see the 56 villanas on youtube.

Member

Sorry, off topic but the Economist mentions the Hungarian Spectrum’s (Eva’s) post regarding Deutsch’ comments “This time, however, Mr Deutsch may have cause to regret his haste. As Hungarian Spectrum, a liberal blog, points out, Mr Deutsch and his fellow Fidesz activists owe a lot to Mr Melia.”
http://www.economist.com/blogs/easternapproaches/2011/08/fideszs-antics?fsrc=rss

Sackhoes Contributor
Guest

Johnny Boy: if several friends tell me that my fly is open, I would probably listen to their warning, check my fly and zip it up. Telling them to go to hell would only get them angry at me, but worse: my fly would be still open and I would be a laughing stock among my friends.

peter litvanyi
Guest

Dear “Sackhoes Contributor”;
I second your statement.
Peter Litvanyi

Member

Sackhoes Contributor, very good analogy.

Joe Simon
Guest

Yes, FIDESZ should be a bit more humble and responsive to foreign criticism. Young Turks at a hurry, it seems. At the same time where were these noble Americans, champions of democracy and human rights, when flagrant violations of basic human rights took place in Slovakia and Romania, where the very existence of Hungarian minorities is threatened daily. Hedvig Melina’s case went on and on, yet not one Western embassy spoke up on her behalf. This double standard diminishes somewhat the credibility of those fearing for democracy in Hungary.

Jim
Guest

Joe Simon: Do you guys just make this stuff up?
First of all, her name was “Malina”.
But more importantly, it was none other than Tom Lantos who lodged a protest, writing a letter — a long and detailed letter on behalf of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia, I might add –to Fico about the Malina case.
Feel free to Google before you get creative.

Odin's lost eye
Guest
Some1 yiour first comment rings a bell. About a year ago, some divine inspiration caused the Hungarian voters to vote (as Johnny Boy will tell us) overwhelmingly for Fidesz and its leader Orban Viktor. This idea was put into my head by a neighbour who has ‘Religion’. Her reasoning is that since the King Istvan gave the Crown of Hungary to The Virgin Mary. The Virgin Mary is therefore the ruler of Hungary. Now I have wandered around this land a bit over the past few years and I have not seen her about anywhere. To my neighbour, all the ills, evils and degradations that this land has suffered are punishment for not following the true religion. To her, by inspiring the electorate to vote in this way, the God of the Hungarians and the Holy Crown have decreed that Fidesz and its leader have a Divine Right to rule. To her (and her kind) no other nation, no group of nations or any other (non Divine) leader has any right at all to criticize the rule of Fidesz and its leader in any way. In her mind such critics are blasphemers and heretics. Mind you I think she would… Read more »
Member

Odin’s lost eye, Tell her that it seems that Fidesz is still part of punishment and until the Virgin will appears least on a toast with the map of “Old Hungary” surrounding her, most of us still believe that she made this all up, and until then we want the second best thing, like democracy, liberalism and equal rights for all Hungarians.

Johnny Boy
Guest

“Charles Gati”: “This is why we speak of relative independence and relative sovereignty.”
Your examples are unfit for this situation.
You talk about the UN, the EU, NATO and other organizations, yet fail to recognize that NO SINGLE ACTION OR LAW by the Hungarian government violates anything that should be conformed to because Hungary is a member of these organizations.
All “critic” voices contain political statements only and NONE of them can cite the exact law violated, unlike other cases where Hungary may raise its voice in matters like the ethnic minorities in surrounding companies.
All of these critics are political pressure and they must be rejected by any independent government.
And I, one of their voters, expect all of such political attempts to be rejected. How on earth dare the USA, or any other country for that matter, call my government to NOT use the authorization we’ve empowered them with, for example, to accept a new constitution?

Johnny Boy
Guest

Sackhoes Contributor: if others start telling me my fly is open, I look down and see it for myself. And when I see it is not open, and when looking up I see they’re not my friends saying this to me, I get confident I’m right and they’re not.
This is what is happening in Hungary.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

JB: “”Charles Gati”: “This is why we speak of relative independence and relative sovereignty.” Your examples are unfit for this situation.”
If I were you Johnny Boy, I wouldn’t argue with Professor Gati, an expert on these matters. You simply are not knowledgeable enough to do so.

Sackhoes Contributor
Guest

Johnny Boy: Unfortunately, you have captured well the essence of current Fidesz thinking. The Secretary State of the US, a member of Congress, a US human rights specialist, a US Ambassador: these people (and the United States itself) are now the enemy, because they pointed out certain problems. I am affraid pretty soon Hungary, while being “right”, will be isolated. Of course this does not bother Orban, who has already written of the dying West, while saluting the Rising Red East. His newfound Chinese friends are far less interested in freedom and democracy, so it should be smooth slailing for now…

Member
Johnny Boy: “yet fail to recognize that NO SINGLE ACTION OR LAW by the Hungarian government violates anything that should be conformed to because Hungary is a member of these organizations.” All of the organizations Johnny Boy were referring to are bound by basic human rights, democracy, and so forth. If anyone thinks this should be spelled out, I feel sorry for that person. When you sign your child up to kindergarten you do not sign a contract that says spitting on other kids, looking up the skirts of little girls or smearing feces on the wall and using derogatory language is forbidden as it is not correspond with the common values of rest of the school. It is common sense, common values and common respect for others, the qualities that the current government and many of their supporters seem to lack. ” if others start telling me my fly is open, I look down and see it for myself. And when I see it is not open,” then you should either go to see the eye doctor or consult with your family doctor about the early signs of dementia (disillusionment). I remember for my sweet grandma, she kept seeing… Read more »
Johnny Boy
Guest

Eva: “You simply are not knowledgeable enough to do so.”
Along the same lines, I could as well say you should not argue with me because you are simply not knowledgeable enough to do so.
Don’t you think such pseudo-arguments are so low standard that anyone using them should be ashamed?
Why don’t you reply to my first comment instead? I guess because you have no answer, as usual.

Johnny Boy
Guest

Sackhoes Contributor: no, they are not enemies, but no friends either as long as they fail to point out the exact laws violated. What they “point out” are political statements without justification.
Why should their statements have any relevance when they are using the names of international organizations, yet without giving any specific detail on what their grounds are for doing so?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

JB, surely you don’t think that you know more about political science or international relations than Professor Gati.
I’m a bit more educated in these matters than you but being trained as a historian I wouldn’t try to argue with Professor Gati about matters he knows ten times more about than I do.

Member

Johnny: “if others start telling me my fly is open”
Well, you can deny your fly is open until the first revolving door … (wink).
I think the “Watch out! A guy is driving in the wrong lane!” “What do you mean one guy?? EVERYBODY!!” is the better analogy.

Member
Will the Hungarian government’s reaction to this criticism be more positive than to earlier warnings? Reaction in terms of actually doing something to reinstate the democratic checks and balances? No, of course not. They 100% believe that they hold the one and only “truth” (and even if they didn’t their inherent Magyar male machismo would never permit such an admission). But I think this time they will be careful not to let their usual village idiots have free rein in delivering their typically imbecilic utterances. Not out of any deference to the US (Orban would love to able to *slap* them down in his parlance) but out of the developing situation on the cuurency markets. The forint isn’t quite in free fall against the CHF but today’s rate touching 250 will have very loud bells ringing within the more intellectually aware sections of the regime. One moronic comment out of line (a la Szijjarto or Kosa last year) and a serious situation could become a catastrophic one. So, the answer will be, even if not expressly formulated, that you Americans are ignorant. You don’t even know how a parliamentary system works. Of course, it is also possible that there will… Read more »
Paul
Guest

As usual JB takes the default position that Fidesz=Hungary. ‘Attack’ (Fidesz=speak for ‘criticise’) OV or Fidesz (or JB) and you attack Hungary.
To the rest of us, this is self-evidently false (I suspect even JB actually knows this), but it too useful an ‘argument’ for Fidesz/OV/etc ever to abandon.
Whilst they stick to this illogical perception, nothing we can say will make any difference. As long as you deny reality, you are ‘attack’ proof.
But, I must support JB re this worrying ‘you can’t argue with someone if they know more about the subject than you do’ line. I feel very uncomfortable when I read people I respect using this sort of argument.
Apart from the fact that, as liberals and democrats and believers in a truly free society, we should accept anyone’s right to argue any topic, it also assumes that knowledge=understanding. And that assumption has been disproven more times than I can remember.
The fact that someone knows a lot more about something than others in no way makes their opinion or analysis correct.

Pete H.
Guest

Paul, given the numbers of times JB has insulted Eva, I fully support her lack of engagement with him. I would be far less tolerant of his rudeness. She’s charitable enough letting him continue to post to her blog.

Member

Paul: I think what Eva meant is that a low style argument that we are usually presented by Johnny Boy does not fit Mr Gati. Johnny Boy is not known about presenting his case with facts and with conclusions, but with verbal abuses and insults. He himself cannot handle the same, so when the same tactics are used against him he retreats as a small child, and uses his hysterics. On those days when we have the good fortune not to be distracted by Johnny Boy “I have no idea what I am talking about , but all of you are stupid” analogy, I find that quality of the discussion is way above average. I just think that some people should not be objected to Johnny Boy’s nonsense, and I am glad that Eva puts JB to his place once in while.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul: “But, I must support JB re this worrying ‘you can’t argue with someone if they know more about the subject than you do’ line. I feel very uncomfortable when I read people I respect using this sort of argument.”
Well, sorry but I stick with my original position on this subject. I would never try to argue with a marine biologist about the organisms of the oceans. I know nothing about the subject. But people think that everybody can talk about history or political science without any qualification whatsoever.

Paul
Guest

Pete/Some 1 – I share your feelings re Éva and JB, in fact I am probably JB’s strongest critic (judging by the venom he so often directs at me!), but that does not excuse that particular line of ‘reasoning’, especially from an academic.
If we are to stand up to the likes of JB, we must practise as we preach.

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