WikiLeaks: The Americans and Ferenc Gyurcsány

First of all, I would like to thank all of you for carrying on with "duties" in my absence. Some of you posted news, many of you provided English and Hungarian language links and kept up the spirit. I'm very grateful for that.

As for the situation in Connecticut. By yesterday 1,600 crews were at work trying to restore power to the the remainder of the 750,000 people (sometimes also described as households and customers–which would make the number substantially higher) who at the peak were without electricity. Keep in mind that the population of Connecticut is 3.5 million! The local power companies needed help from out of state. The crews who worked in our area yesterday came from Missouri!

As for the details. In the first three days we didn't even have telephone connection because telephone and electric lines are normally placed on the same poles. (And cell phone users were suffering from very spotty coverage as the backup power of towers ran low–or at least that's what the news said.) Lack of electricity also meant lack of water because water in this area is provided by individual wells. Although we stored a fair amount of water ahead of time I guess I don't have to emphasize the difficulties encountered under these circumstances.

Perhaps the most oppressive aspect of the situation was being cut off from civilization. No TV, no Internet, and only an old Walkman I used to listen to during my morning walks. I slept a lot because what can one do after it's pitch black? Nothing short of staring into the darkness. However, while without electricity or any outside stimulus, I read a lot of books which one day will be the topic of a post or two.

The joy caused by the end of the power outage was somewhat clouded by the discovery that my computer, most likely because it felt lonely laughing smiley, had become ill. (And no, it wasn't a power surge problem; I was super careful on that front.) It refused to boot up. It turned out that there was a memory failure. After a few hours this problem was semi-solved and at least the computer works at "half strength." A memory upgrade will arrive next week, so I'll have twice the memory I had before the failure and four times as much as I have now. Or, to be more precise, my computer will have more memory.

And now let's return to the documents relating to Hungary that WikiLeaks got hold of. Origo, the online newspaper, has all the Hungarian material but not everything has been summarized yet. For today I am using the few documents that pertain to the Americans' perception of Ferenc Gyurcsány.

I must say that I feel in my element here because we are dealing this time with real, honest-to-goodness documents that give us a much more reliable picture of U.S.-Hungarian relations than the guesswork that appears in the writings of political commentators.

These documents were written between 2007 and 2010 and thus cover a period during which two U.S. ambassadors, both political appointees, were watching over U.S.-Hungarian relations. April H. Foley, a Bush appointee, served between August 18, 2006 and April 2, 2009. Then for almost a year there was no ambassador until Barack Obama at last decided to give the post to Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis, who presented her credentials to László Sólyom on January 11, 2010.

What did the American diplomats in Budapest think of Ferenc Gyurcsány and his government? Not much; in 2007 and 2008 they had a rather low opinion of the MSZP-SZDSZ coalition in general and of Ferenc Gyurcsány in particular. In the first cable April Foley was especially worried about Gyurcsány's foreign policy, specifically about Russian-Hungarian relations. According to Foley, Gyurcsány's utterances are "ambivalent concerning energy security and the missile defense program." On the other hand, Foley was obviously taken with Fidesz, "whose leaders work hard to repair the party's relations with us." The cable makes it evident that there was some American pressure on the Gyurcsány government "to send clear signals that Hungary is strategically committed to the United States." But the Americans were disappointed because the signals were not clear enough. Gyurcsány became suspect in American eyes as a result of his frequent visits to Russia. The Americans were also unhappy about a Hungarian-Ukrainian agreement to build a storage facility for natural gas reserves.

On a personal level, April Foley heartily disliked Ferenc Gyurcsány. The following snide remark may give a taste of the relationship between the two. During the summer of 2007 Daniel Fried, U.S. undersecretary in the State Department, was visiting Hungary, and the U.S. Embassy prepared a background summary of Hungarian politics for him. An excerpt: "Your visit will be at the beginning of the silly season which the tired Gyurcsány government badly needs although doesn't deserve." Her suggestion to Fried was to visit Viktor Orbán. The implication was that the best description of the Hungarian political situation could be obtained from the leader of Fidesz.

The bone of contention between the Americans and the Gyurcsány government was Hungary's relationship with Russia. According to another cable written by Foley in 2008, "Gyurcsány talks about the new Russia with great enthusiasm (rajongva)." The American ambassador reproached Gyurcsány for standing for "western values [but] eastern interests," something that from the Hungarian point of view one cannot find terribly surprising given Hungary's reliance on Russian natural gas. The Americans suspected Gyurcsány of having some kind of hidden agenda. According to the same document, Gyurcsány talks about Transatlantic relations and western values but "he feels more comfortable with Russia and Ukraine." 

Foley and her staff ventured into the world of psychoanalysis: "We feel that some kind of personal thing is playing a part here. Gyurcsány often speaks about Putin's popularity. For example on July 30 [2007] he talked how much Russian women are begging Putin to stay. Putin certainly made Gyurcsány feel at home but the same thing cannot be said about his reception in western political circles…. Gyurcsány perhaps values Putin for something he himself lacks: the firmness of his position and his self-assurance in foreign policy matters." The cable concludes: "We made clear to Gyurcsány that we hope that Hungary 'will regain its voice' and will be able to strengthen its position in the western community." The story of the Gyurcsány-Foley meeting is also described by Ferenc Gyurcsány himself. According to his account Foley even criticized the government for increasing its exports to Russia. Gyurcsány wrote that, at this point, "I almost fell off my chair." 

The Americans were also upset about Gyurcsány's not taking a firm stand against Russia in 2008 when a mini-war developed between Georgia and Russia over the possession of Abkhazia. What the Americans obviously wanted was an unequivocal condemnation of Russia, which the Hungarian government was loath to do because of its fear of Russian economic retaliation. The Gyurcsány government adhered to the official EU-NATO position but didn't go farther than that. However, Orbán, who of course could say all sorts of things being in opposition, used the language the Americans wanted to hear. The cable approvingly notes that Orbán called upon Gyurcsány to take a firm stand against the Russians. Foley and the American diplomats in Budapest even condemned Mátyás Eörsi (SZDSZ) who visited Georgia and nonetheless "found the reaction of the Hungarian government … satisfactory." The American embassy tried to put pressure on the Hungarian government in this matter and managed to organize a couple of interviews with American diplomats on MTV1.

I suspect that the very negative attitude of April Foley towards the Gyurcsány government had a lot to do with the Fidesz filter through which news reached her about the activities of the government. As I see it, the Americans were fooled by Viktor Orbán concerning, for example, Hungarian adherence to the so-called Southern Stream, a new pipeline that would avoid Ukraine and make the Russian supply of natural gas reach Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Austria and Italy.

Orbán may have railed against the Southern Stream to Foley, but by January 2010–new U.S. ambassador in place–he changed his tune. According to a "confidential" cable, Orbán "confessed to the Embassy that he would continue the policies of the former government concerning the Southern stream. This is in sharp contrast to his earlier bellicose [harcias] statements." It turned out that the Americans knew already in November 2009 that Orbán was in fact in favor of the Southern Stream. While talking to Richard Morningstar, Special Envoy of the U.S. Secretary of State for Eurasian Energy, he bluntly announced that Hungary must take part in the Southern Stream project even if it endangers the construction of the Nabucco pipeline.

It is worth remembering that Orbán ferociously attacked the Gyurcsány government for its adherence to the Southern Stream project and compared the contract signed by the Hungarians to a coup d'état. Even a year later Fidesz politicians called upon the Hungarian government to change its stance on the subject. Origo gave the following title to the article that outlined the contents of this particular cable: "Orbán used the Russian pipeline as a political instrument."

Considering that there are apparently 7,000 cables in which the word "Hungarian" appears among the newly released WikiLeaks documents, most likely a much more nuanced picture will eventually emerge. On the basis of what I have read up to know it seems that throughout the period in which April Foley was the U.S. ambassador a decidedly pro-Fidesz American policy was in place and a rather antagonistic attitude reigned in the U.S. Embassy toward the Gyurcsány government and Ferenc Gyurcsány himself. Given the close relationship between Foley and the Fidesz leadership–and this was an open secret in Budapest–most likely some of the very antagonistic descriptions of the Gyurcsány government came from Fidesz politicians.

By late 2009 and early 2010 the Americans had to realize that they had been duped. By now "strategic alliances" with both Russia and China are being contemplated by Viktor Orbán, who was thought to be such a reliable friend of the United States of America.

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Minusio
Guest

Glad to see you back online, Eva!
As for the Wikileaks papers, they show the same whatever country is concerned: an amateurish, biased, ignorant, empire-driven, pushy conduct of U.S. foreign affairs.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Minusio:”an amateurish, biased, ignorant, empire-driven, pushy conduct of U.S. foreign affairs.”
I agree. I’m actually surprised at the primitiveness of US policy toward Hungary. I’m not saying that the US is responsible for the fall of the Gyurcsány government, but they certainly helped to discredit it.

Member

I thinks these cables in general pretty much like a quality political blog. Like this one. People with real or claimed expertise are pontificating about events and people. This is just the nature of their work. They send people to foreign countries to listen and report. These are not official state department communiques. So I think Minusio’s critic is a bit harsh to call them “biased and ignorant”. I’d say this opinion is the typical “biased” opinion on the US – perhaps the “empire” thing is the hardest to digest for some …
The Gyurcsany government didn’t really need help to be discredited. They did a fine job on that by themselves. I think they give enough reasons to the Americans not to trust them or be cynical. And this is the other side of the coin: they are listening but they can only hear what you tell them. They are not clairvoyants.
Now these “biased, ignorant, empire-driven” guys realized that they blew it with Orban. Just remember Hillary’s recent comments. How’s that for a “good cable”?

Odin's lost eye
Guest
I am glad to see you are alive and kicking although only on half power. Your memory loss was probably due to power outage. Some electronic ‘bits’ only have a relatively short (unpowered) shelf life. Your remarks on darkness were interesting. In the UK I always had a box of candles. I bought them over here but Hungarians seem to burn them for no reason so now I have a home maid wind generator. The problem here is that for Hungarians charging a mobile phone is more important than having light – You cannot win. By the way a tin of fish in oil, a bit of old bootlace and a saucer of water and you have a meal and a light. It is interesting that from within the Wiki leaks we get a picture of the USA having little or no sympathy with the very real problems that Hungary has. We can also see the effect of Fidesz and the charm of that con merchant ‘Mighty One’(O.V). In some ways it is a pity that the U.S. appoints a forty/fifty something year old lady who are susceptible to a charm offensive as their ambassador.
Guest

Shouldn’t the US politicians have understood that Hungary needs good relations with Russia – like all the other small Eastern Europe states ?
It doesn’t really matter which political side they’re on. They can’t expect too much help from the USA if they get into problems with the “Russian Bear”!
PS: Eva, it’s good to hear from you that you weathered the storm without too many problems.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mutt Damon: “These are not official state department communiques.”
They are official all right. After all policy is formed partly on the basis of what diplomats on the ground report back to their capitals.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Wolfi: “Shouldn’t the US politicians have understood that Hungary needs good relations with Russia – like all the other small Eastern Europe states ?”
Yes, I think they should but it seems that the Bush administration had some kind of Russian phobia. And most likely Foley had a blind spot when it came to “these communists.” I guess she didn’t understand Hungarian reality of the late Kádár period.

Kirsten
Guest
Eva, it is good to hear that the storm is over and electricity supply restored. I am surprised about the length of the repair work (and I would also guess that the fun the storm brought was limited). But this and Paul’s stories about the British Rail show once more that “development” or “democracy” does not mean “being provided by all goodies instantaneously”, which I think is rather common thinking in Central Europe (including unavoidable disappointment and expectations that this must be different in the West). By which I do not at all want to suggest that the US or Britain were underdeveloped, for me these two countries are the main points of reference for development and democracy, but for our Central European thinking it would be good to better understand what is actually missing here (not the organisation of the railways or public repair works). As regards the US assessment of Ferenc Gyurcsany, to me it does not sound completely inappropriate. Russian influence in Central Europe is an issue (also for the European Commission), and there might be other ways how to deal with the dependence on Russian gas than increasing it through avoiding the search for alternative sources… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Kirsten: “To me it seems that Ferenc Gyurcsany is not too different from other Hungarian politicians before and after. Loyalty towards the West is a bit uncertain”
I don’t know but among Hungarian politicians he seems to be most committed to the West. At least in his writings.

Minusio
Guest

Matt Damon: “the empire thing”, etc.
Why does a country with only two neighbours of insignificant military strength and no threat potential need military spending that is higher than the rest of the world combined? This is the attribute of an empire.
As far as the amateurish and irresponsible way of policy making is concerned, especially on the part of the Republicans, I recommend a recent article written by one of my former students. He is a historian who worked many years for the budget committees of both Houses of Congress and knows the wheelings and dealings at the centre of the Western world inside out.
http://www.truth-out.org/goodbye-all-reflections-gop-operative-who-left-cult/1314907779#%5B3%5D

Leo
Guest

Minusio:”an amateurish, biased, ignorant, empire-driven, pushy conduct of U.S. foreign affairs.”
True, but everything is relative and I suppose that most great powers have been worse than this one. What strikes me is that Wiki Leaks has not yet revealed any major scandal. The situation is at least not worse than I thought it was.
It also matters who is in charge. The miscalculations of Foley illustrate the prejudices as much as the lack of capability of the Bush regime. It seems that nationalists are usually too dumb to serve their nation well (which is of course especially obvious in Hungary – now and in the past).
BTW: Eva’s remark about the repair men coming from Missouri made me think – can’t imagine something like that in Europe yet.

Kirsten
Guest

Eva, I meant it with regard to foreign affairs, not the basic principles of the political system envisaged. It is perhaps thought too much under the impression of the recent German experience, where the basic principles of political life are demonstrably Western and yet in critical moments now in the EU or with Libya, the “instincts” still appear to suggest different strategies than those applied by the “West” (US, UK or France). And trying to hedge one’s bets appears to have been a strategy for Hungary also after 1956 (whether successful or not might be debatable). The debate about whether the true allies are not to be found in China could be seen as a continuation of this thinking. But of course the disappointment of the US about the external policies and plans of Orban Viktor must be large if they expected him to be the West’s most powerful ally in Hungary.

Member

@Minusio “Why does a country with only two neighbours” etc.
Right. As long we have more horses than the Mexicans and the Canadians combined we are fine. We should actually have sea horses so they can swim to Omaha Beach to figth the seasonal Nazi hordes.
I’m wondering why these guys publish only American cables. The intelligent and responsible Norwegian diplomacy would just be too boring? Yes, these “cables” official in a way that the State Department employees sent it, but they are still just analyst opinions. And the US cannot send Condoleezza Rice to every country.
Funny we still call them cables. It sounds like “… Gyurcsany likes Putin STOP … Orban asshole STOP … Send more cigarettes STOP …”.
We should stop looking at these cables in a “Honey? Do look fat in this country?” sort of way.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mutt Damon: “Yes, these “cables” official in a way that the State Department employees sent it, but they are still just analyst opinions.”
There will be others where, for example, Viktor Orbán tells all sorts of things about his plans to the Americans.

Member

Regarding the US Embassy cables. I was told a few years ago by an insider at the Embassy that the focus of US foreign policy had been on Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, but that they had assumed that the region was no longer going to be problematic for them and had therefore moved most of their resources to the Muslim world. It might explain why things seem quite amateur or it might not…..

GW
Guest

What one gathers from Foley’s messages (as well as her speaking activities since leaving her post in Hungary) is that she brought a cold war mentality to the job, substituting Russia for the Soviet Union. This viewpoint overwhelmed her ability to recognize both that Gy.F., for all the faults of his party, was the single figure in the Hungarian political landscape most reliably committed to positioning Hungary within the EU and the west in general and the danger of Fidesz’s nationalism. Her ambassadorship was clearly one of opportunities lost and looks even more unfortunate in light of the pragmatic and realistic approach brought by, for example, former Ambassador Walker, who appears to have clearly discerned the problems associated with Fidesz’s movement from the center to nationalist/populist right.

Member
As far as the US as “empire” goes. History does show us that there will be “empires” in human history. Egypt, Roman, Geek, Turkis, etc (not neccesarly in this order and it is not a full list) “empires” all changed political, economical and religious streams. THey certanily acted fir their own interest, just as any one of you with any significant interest would act for their own family well ebing first, and everything else second. If we would “remove” the US as the current “empire”, wh would you trust more? THe shfit will happen for sure as no “empire” remained, but for now, who would be better? China (that as we just found out offered Gadhafi huge stockpiles of arms recently)? Yes, China for world peace and human rights! If I have to pick a country to be an empire I would vote for the USA or Germany. On the other hand, they have certainly shown sign of incompetence as far as Orban goes. They just ended up in the long line of people, organizations and goernments that Orban fueled. Not really a flattering place to be for a smart country. Gyurcsany sympli took the stance that if he makes… Read more »
Sackhoes Contributor
Guest

During Eva’s extended absence due to Hurricane Irene, I read about these cables in Origo and Velemenyvezer. What fascinates me is that while this group bemoans the fact that the embassy staff did not sufficiently appreciate Gyurcsany, the other grooup was surprised that the embassy staff was not as enamored by Gyurcsany and the MSzP as they previously believed. Same facts, viewed from different angles.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Sackhoes Contributor: “the other group [Fidesz] was surprised that the embassy staff was not as enamored by Gyurcsany and the MSzP as they previously believed. Same facts, viewed from different angles.”
Fidesz politicians try to attack the United States that it always supported the left against the right in Hungary. As we can see from the tone of the cables, this was simply not true. Under Foley especially not and the Fidesz leadership had to know that.

Member

Eva: “Fidesz politicians try to attack the United States that it always supported the left against the right in Hungary. As we can see from the tone of the cables, this was simply not true. Under Foley especially not and the Fidesz leadership had to know that.”
I think Fidesz simply plays Hungarians the same way as they play everyone else. Simply the Fidesz now is a group with no to much spine. Fidesz plays Alice in Wonderland. Actaully Orban is Humpty Dumpty who can make words mean whatever he chooses. He explains Jabberwocky to Hungarians, the US, the UN, the EU exactly in the way what they want to hear. (http://www.jabberwocky.com/carroll/jabber/jabberwocky.html)

Member

I am not surprised by Foley’s opinions. After all Orban was vocally in favour of the EU before he was against it….

Ron
Guest

After reading the above article I wanted to know more about the American Ambassadors in Hungary.
You know that April Foley is the only one (at least to google search) who has her one own Hungarian Wiki page.
http://hu.wikipedia.org/wiki/April_H._Foley
On this page I found a reference to Foley’s farewell speech. In the comments of this article, commentator Eric was bang on.
http://www.politics.hu/20090327/us-ambassadors-parting-shot-well-deal-with-any-lunatic-you-hungarians-elect-but-first-you-need-to-suffer/

Ron
Guest

Off-topic. The Constitution Table.
It seems that every municipality requires to have a so-called Constitution Table by September 1 (order given according to my understanding August 26).
You can get a free copy and you can have it with a personalized signature of Laszlo Kover.
http://thecontrarianhungarian.wordpress.com/2011/09/03/the-constitutions-table-az-alaptorveny-asztala/
Somebody made a remark that: She hopes not too many people ask for this free copy, otherwise this poor man (Laszlo Kover) will spent the rest of his time signing copies of the Constitution.

Member
“Fidesz politicians try to attack the United States that it always supported the left” Yeah, this is funny. It shows why the US is always the evil empire. Supporting left, supporting right. How about supporting freedom. It goes like this: The naive and honest US state department employees show up in the land of the goulash. They look around and see two assholes, Gyurcsany and Orban. Then they cable this back to Uncle Sam. Assange publishes it, then the Hungarians go: Wtf? You were supposed to choose between us!! You amateurish, irresponsible, empire-minded bastards … Get yo’ shit together and stop staring at the US. This started to sound like a “he said she said game”. Regarding Fleto, I think when the Americans thought the ex-Communist may cozy up with the Russians wasn’t too far fetched. It was Gyurcsany’s job to show he goodwill. It maybe something to realize that investing into good relations with America will pay off but it takes more then a few speeches. Orban of course is a different animal. A lot worse than Gyurcsany. In his case nobody is wondering what his intentions are. He simply seems to lick anybody’s back part for a few… Read more »
Member

“The Constitution Table”
Please !! Somebody tell me what’s on page 28 !!
Leaving the book open on page 28 was one of the explicit requirements in the government’s order regarding setting up the surroundings of the table. I am dying to know! I hope it’s something important, not just an advertisement … That would be funny.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Ron: “After reading the above article I wanted to know more about the American Ambassadors in Hungary.”
Thank you, Ron! One person is not really enough for this job and I welcome any help I can get. Through your comment I got to an article in Népszabadság from which I found out that she was the only American ambassador who didn’t receive a decoration at departure. It is usually the Foreign Ministry which makes the recommendation but apparently the Foreign Ministry (Kinga Göncz as foreign minister) didn’t recommend her. Clearly, the Hungarian government was no friend of hers. (My inclination was to use a verb starting with “p” but I guess this wouldn’t be too nice.

Paul
Guest
Nice to see HS up and running again. It’s difficult to believe how long it took the richest country in the world to get people practically in New York’s backyard reconnected. It makes you wonder what would have happened if Irene hadn’t reduced to a ‘tropical storm’ by the time she hit! Anyway, on topic (well, pretty close by my standards) – I don’t have much to say about these ‘cables’ (I laughed out loud at Mutt’s ‘STOP’ joke), it’s all pretty much as I would have expected. We’ll be discovering that bears poo in the woods next. But I do recommend readers to click on Minusio’s link, in fact I’ll repeat it to save you the bother of scrolling back up the page – http://www.truth-out.org/goodbye-all-reflections-gop-operative-who-left-cult/1314907779#%5B3%5D It’s a (very!) long article, but well written and fascinating. It’s also one of the most depressing things I’ve read in a very long time. Those of us on the left/liberal/progressive/sane/nice side of life have long feared that the right has all the best tunes – as we so often suffer the frustration of seeing right-wing propaganda being lapped up by the masses, while the awfully mismanaged left-wing attempts at answering it just sink… Read more »
Jano
Guest

“Nice to see HS up and running again. It’s difficult to believe how long it took the richest country in the world to get people practically in New York’s backyard reconnected. It makes you wonder what would have happened if Irene hadn’t reduced to a ‘tropical storm’ by the time she hit!”
Oh, you wouldn’t imagine how bad the electricity situation is. Last year we had one night of snow near DC, almost negligible compared to an average snow day in Hungary and electricity went out for a whole day…

Ron
Guest

Mutt Damon: Please !! Somebody tell me what’s on page 28 !!
I do not know what is on page 28. I assume that this is the middle only.
Btw please find a copy of the letter.
http://magyarcitrom.postr.hu/az-alaptorveny-asztala

Ron
Guest

Did you know that Hungary is candidate to the UN security council 2012-2013.
http://www.mfa.gov.hu/kum/en/bal/foreign_policy/un_sc/
I like the objectives pursued by Hungary in the United Nations section. Unfortunately, in Hungary some of them are actually the opposite of this.
In the same website (btw this is the Hungarian Embassy in Holland) under Hungary in the world, I noticed half way the page regarding Minorities point4.
4.) demolishing roma shanty-towns and stimulating construction of low-rent apartments.
http://www.mfa.gov.hu/kulkepviselet/NL/en/en_Magyarorszag_a_vilagban/
So you take away their land and shitty houses, and return low-rent apartments. Without land?

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