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.