WikiLeaks: The Americans and Viktor Orbán

Yesterday I wrote about Ambassador April Foley's very low opinion of Ferenc Gyurcsány's policies, especially his allegedly overly cozy relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin. By contrast, it is apparent from the currently available American documents that she had a high opinion of Viktor Orbán. The very fact that she sent  Daniel Fried, U.S. undersecretary in the State Department, to Orbán to get a clear picture of the Hungarian situation says a lot about her less than objective view of the Hungarian situation. In one of her cables she described Orbán as "being playful and relaxed" while she pointed out that "Hungarians are becoming tired of Gyurcsány's supercilious style." Playful versus supercilious!

After her departure in April 2009, for almost a whole year Chargé d'Affaires Jeffrey Levine headed the U.S. Embassy in Budapest. He showed a healthy dose of skepticism when it came to an assessment of Viktor Orbán the politician. The first cable available specifically dealing with Orbán was written on June 16, 2009 when Orbán gave a speech at a conference organized by the Budapest Atlantic Forum. The meeting took place three days after the stunning victory of Fidesz (56%) at the European Parliamentary elections. Orbán is described as "confident and relaxed." Orbán emphasized the important "assistance from Germany's Chancellor Merkel and Italian PM Berlusconi" his party received. As usual, Orbán exaggerated as Levine himself noted in his memo: "During the election campaigns, Orbán has regularly made a point of seeking out meetings, often amounting to little more than a photo-op, with foreign leaders presumed to be sympathetic towards Fidesz."

Orbán in fact was so relaxed that "he doesn't have to worry about being politically correct," and he immediately made some critical remarks about the United States and certain EU leaders. "He gave the impression of a leader who possesses enough political and social backing that he does not have to worry too much about niceties and paying lip service to the international community." As if his political and social backing at home had anything to do with his standing in the international community. When it came to criticism of the United States, Orbán explained Hungarian anti-American feelings in terms of the unpopularity of George W. Bush and the United States' major responsibility for the world's financial crisis.

As early as mid-2009 Orbán seemed to have been fairly confident of a huge landslide resulting perhaps in a two-thirds majority. In this connection "Orbán said that ultimately, Hungary appears to be moving toward a 'one-party system,' and that one party will be Fidesz, facing no real competition from smaller political entities." Interestingly, Levine added no comment to this startling and somewhat frightening announcement.

When it came to the economy Orbán refused to answer probing questions about specific economic actions he was planning to take. He explained that "he is a lawyer, not an economist." Levine somewhat sarcastically remarked that he may be a lawyer, "albeit one who never practiced." At this time Orbán was still planning "to initiate a new agreement with the IMF." Levine was somewhat surprised that the Fidesz politician "equated with 'the Americans' the IMF throughout his remarks."

A few months later, on November 18, Fidesz "rolled out its economic and foreign policy agenda to members of the diplomatic community." Fidesz's "triumvirate of Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Zsolt Németh … (rumored future) Minister of Economy György Matolcsy, and former (and again, widely touted future) Foreign Minister János Martonyi" gave lectures. Levine found Matolcsy's presentation "highly polished" but not very convincing. He focused "heavily on contrasting the alleged virtues of the previous 1998-2002 Fidesz government with the supposed vices of its Socialist successors." Matolcsy used "the refrain 'reform/reform/reform.'" Rather amusing in light of the Orbán government's refusal to utter the word "reform." Matolcsy promised programs to cut bureaucracy, streamline taxes, and battle corruption. In his usual overly optimistic fashion the future economic minister claimed that "cutting bureaucracy by 25 percent could generate 7 percent GDP growth." Once again, Levine did not comment on these surely unrealistic figures. Matolcsy repeated Orbán's earlier statement about the need for IMF and World Bank support of their program. Yet, a few months later Orbán and Matolcsy were fighting for the country's freedom from these international lenders.

Matolcsy's economic presentation did not go into any detail. He stayed away from an in-depth discussion of Fidesz's tax proposals. To Levine Matolcsy's "economic figures brought to mind Mark Twain's famous quip about statistics, since they were carefully constructed to bolster the Fidesz argument that only they had been fiscally responsible." The quip to which Levine was referring is from Mark Twain's Autobiography: ""There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics." And he added that "given the reaction of the audience, Fidesz clearly faces some skepticism about its pro-business/pro-investment rhetoric."

János Martonyi waxed eloquent about the necessity of a stronger Europe and the Lisbon Treaty and expressed his unhappiness over Czech President Vacláv Klaus's effort to attach an "opt-out" clause to the treaty. It is worth comparing Martonyi's pro-European Union stance in 2009 with Viktor Orbán's decidedly antagonistic remarks about Brussels nowadays.

A major surprise to the American diplomats stationed in Budapest must have been Orbán's about-face on the issue of the Southern Stream. Clearly, Orbán knew as well as Gyurcsány and others in and out of the government that it was in Hungary's interest to adhere to the agreement to build a new pipeline that would bypass Ukraine. But he had a well-deserved reputation for being anti-Russian. By the time that Orbán lost the elections in 2002 Russian-Hungarian relations had hit rock bottom. One of the Medgyessy's first foreign policy steps was to mend fences with Russia, a potentially large market for Hungarian goods. He made strides, and after 2004 Gyurcsány continued this policy. For Orbán the American suspicion about Hungarian-Russian relations came in handy. If Fidesz followed the U.S. lead in opposing rapprochement with Russia, the party could endear itself to Washington. And Orbán badly needed something that would improve relations between his party and the United States. With April Foley's assistance he was quite successful in this endeavor.

But then the Republicans lost the presidential election in 2008, which had to be a blow to Orbán who to the last minute was supporting the McCain-Palin ticket. And with the lost election, April Foley, an ardent Fidesz supporter, disappeared from the scene. In her place came a shrewd career diplomat with a good dose of skepticism about Fidesz's plans for the future. It seems that Levine's skepticism was well founded.

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Johnny Boy
Guest

“As if his political and social backing at home had anything to do with his standing in the international community.”
His backing at home does everything. Of course it determines his stance in the international community too.
What makes Obama’s position so strong in the international community? The country behind him.
You should take a ‘politics for dummies’ course.

Johnny Boy
Guest

“Interestingly, Levine added no comment to this startling and somewhat frightening announcement.”
This is the will of the voters and of the voters alone.
The fact that you find the voters’ preference frightening proves that you are not a democrat.

Johnny Boy
Guest

“April Foley, an ardent Fidesz supporter”
She was not a Fidesz supporter, she was a realist.
The difference between Gyurcsány and Orbán, especially when meeting in person, is exactly as striking as she depicted. And events went down as Foley’s comments predicted, proving that she was right in her assessment.
You obviously have a thing against US ambassadors in Hungary. It was not too long ago that you lashed out against the current ambassador in a similar manner.
But the problem is not in them, it’s in you. You are endlessly biased and hostile and you can’t stand that ambassadors have a much more realistic approach and refuse to lose their sanity.

Member

Johnny Boy:
“His backing at home does everything. Of course it determines his stance in the international community too.” So did for Mussolini.
“The difference between Gyurcsány and Orbán, especially when meeting in person, is exactly as striking as she depicted.” Well, then what explains the awful “head on head ” live TV debate between Orban and Gyurcsany, where Orban looked like an uninformed, scared little mouse? Maybe that it is the Orban can tell lies and stories better then Gyurcsany ever did. I think history factually proved us that later. Orban duped everyone around him. the lomg list is just keeps expending , Grieboski, Băsescu, Melia, etc.
I wonder how Ms Foley feels about the Chinese-Hungarian sisterhood?

Member

From Wikileaks:
Orban to International diplomats: “pay no attention to what I say to get elected” bahaha poor Johnny Boys and poor Hungarians got duped again. He even lied when he said that he never lied.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Some1: “I wonder how Ms Foley feels about the Chinese-Hungarian sisterhood?”
And don’t forget his talks about a Russian-Hungarian strategic alliance. See Laszlo Kovács’s opinion piece in Nepszabadsag. Foley will have a heartattack.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

some1: “From Wikileaks: Orban to International diplomats: “pay no attention to what I say to get elected”
Well, this is a bit embarrassing. Of course, we have known it all along, but it is nice to see it in writing!

Pete H.
Guest

Well JB in a democratic country we would hope that the leader would act in accordance to democratic principles. “pay no attention to what I say to get elected” Never mind all the other evidence stacked up against him, with that one statement it is clear he does not have a clue what a mature democracy is.

Member

@JB “His backing at home does everything. Of course it determines his stance in the international community too.”
This is our weekly reminder hat the Fuhrer DOES NOT have the support of the majorty in Hungary. His 54% (!) was constantly eroding since the elections. Only the laws grant him rigth to fool around. It’s upto him to decide who is he working for. The voters didn’t want to commit suicide in 2010. Tey wated him, but not an idiot without control.
JB about prof. Balogh: “You are endlessly biased and hostile and you can’t stand”
No, she’s not. She is a patriot.

Paul
Guest

Very informative that JB has been so quiet during the hurricane interlude, but the minute Éva reappears he’s back with a vengence.
What more proof do we need that he is indeed a troll? He posts on here not to discuss with us, not to promote his own views, not even to attack us (we are just ‘collateral damage’) – but purely and simply to attack Éva in the most direct and nasty way he can.
Classic Fidesz tactics.
They are scared of you, Éva. Keep up the good work!

Kirsten
Guest

@JB “His backing at home does everything. Of course it determines his stance in the international community too.”
It is not even correct. Why should domestic backing suffice for a “stance in the international community”? The “international community” is free to judge on its own, Johnny, I think you’d better get used to this sad news.

Johnny Boy
Guest

“No, she’s not. She is a patriot.”
No, she is not. She is clearly hostile against everything Hungarian, and I’m not talking about the government before you start to falsify my words, I’m talking about the country and each of its virtues and assets.

Johnny Boy
Guest

“They are scared of you, Éva”
HAHAHA this is probably the best laugh I’ve had on this site so far.
Keep up cheering me up, Paul!

Johnny Boy
Guest

Kirsten: not me you better get used to the sad news that clearly shines through from the Wikileaks documents: that Orbán is much more highly regarded by the Americans than Gyurcsány.

Member

Johnny Boy:
“She is clearly hostile against everything Hungarian, ” You are wrong. The differnce between her and you is that you take everything Orban says, and does as the pope takes the bivble. YOu are duped and you do not even know it. It takes a certain character to stand up against injustice, and a cetain character to care enough to go against the stream. THese are traits you lack, but Eva does not, so of course you would not understand.
“HAHAHA this is probably the best laugh I’ve had on this site so far.” That just shows how limited resource it needs to amuse you. How about visiting a flea circus?
“Orbán is much more highly regarded by the Americans than Gyurcsány” You mean Orban can dupe people better then Gyurcsany? lies, lies, and damn lies that is Orban’s platform, and so far he has delivered perfect.

Kave
Guest
Johnny D. Trollboy: Gyurcsany said “We lied” (indeed, he was quoting István Örkény broadcast on the short lived Szabad Kossuth Radio on October 31, 1956 “Hazudtunk éjjel, hazudtunk nappal, hazudtunk minden hullámhosszon”) in a closed meeting to the Socialist party, of which he was not a member, admonishing them that such deceptive election tactics were unacceptable and needed to be changed. Compare to Orban’s “ne figyeljenek arra, amit a megválasztásomért mondok” (pay no attention to what I say to get elected) No need to jump through any linguistic hoops here. He’s admitting to prevarication. He’s not admonishing against it. Now, who is lying? Eva uses her voice to advocate for Hungarian freedom at a time when Hungary is being manipulated into a one party state with limits on free speech. Lots of Hungarians paid no attention to what was said to get Orban elected, true, and he won a majority of votes. But democratic-minded Hungarians have a right to analyze and criticize his party’s policies actions even after the elections, and to do that information must be free and forums for discussion open. Your attacks on Eva’s right to a dissenting voice kind of makes you the ideological pufajkás around… Read more »
Johnny Boy
Guest

Kave inmate: I never attack Eva on grounds of critics of the government, I attack her on grounds of her hostility to Hungary and us Hungarians.

Kave
Guest

Trollboy: Your usual psychopathic reasoning. If somebody criticizes the Great Leader, they are anti-Hungarian. And what kind of prizes do you win for being so anti-Hungarian, Trollboy? Do you actually believe Eva is hostile to Hungarians, or only to the kind of rich,arrogant,empowered ones you work for? Eva is continuing the tradition of Hungarian intellectual dissent from outside the borders of Hungary, a tradition that has mainly been attacked in the past by communist Hungarian governments unable to coerce the (Hungarian) writer to silence their dissenting voice. And – too bad for you and your cadres – you can’t shut her up now either. Nor can you – with your keenly limited powers of intellectual persuasion – win any argument with her. So you smear and call names. You lose, Trollbaby.

Member

According to the Hircsarda (Hungarian onion.com) Orban told the following the American diplomats:
“Pay no attention to what Wikileaks will say about me telling you not to pay attention”.

wpDiscuz