A very interesting article appeared in today’s Magyar Narancs entitled “After all there was a démarche at the Orbán-Kounalakis meeting” signed by Paula Tamási, most likely a pseudonym.
It is clear from the article that the source of the information was Washington. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it came straight from the State Department whose officials are most likely fed up with the attitude of Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis, the U.S. ambassador to Budapest. In the article the ambassador is described as someone whose activities in Budapest don’t serve the goals of the State Department. Someone whose behavior gives the false impression that the objections of the United States don’t have to be taken terribly seriously.
The article goes into the details of Undersecretary of State Gergely Prőhle’s visit to Washington shortly after Viktor Orbán finally met with the U.S. ambassador on October 18. I wrote about Prőhle’s visit on the basis of a brief report by MTI and came to the conclusion that Prőhle’s conversations in the State Department had something to do with U.S. concerns over the Orbán government’s disregard of the most basic democratic principles.
In the Magyar Narancs article we learn more about Prőhle’s visit. The author claims that Prőhle actually wanted to meet Philip H. Gordon who is the U.S. undersecretary in charge of Europe and Eurasia but in the end he had to be satisfied with meeting only Thomas O. Melia, his deputy in charge of human rights issues. I assume most of my readers remember Melia’s name in connection with Tamás Deutsch’s remark on Twitter about “Who the f…k is Melia?”
According to the article the meeting between Melia and Prőhle was less cordial than someone familiar with the language of diplomacy would expect. Melia apparently complained that the Hungarian right-wing media attacked the U.S. ambassador and that the prime minister’s spokesman, Péter Szijjártó, outright lied about the existence of the démarche Kounalakis delivered to Viktor Orbán. And here the author quoted Melia’s words verbatim: “In case the Hungarian government didn’t notice the importance of the démarche Washington is quite ready to repeat it without delay.” The author claims that Melia’s words to Prőhle were meant as a final warning.
That is by itself is quite interesting but the picture wouldn’t be complete without mentioning an interview with Gergely Prőhle that took place this afternoon on György Bolgár’s two-hour call-in program “Let’s talk it over” on KlubRádió.
First I must mention that Prőhle is a master of waffling.
For the benefit of those who can’t follow the interview in the original I tried to take copious notes throughout. The interview began with Bolgár announcing: “so, after all there was a démarche.” Prőhle’s answer was that although he is a good friend of the editor-in-chief of Magyar Narancs whom he considers to be knowledgeable in foreign affairs “this article is full of nonsense.” He is dismayed. Yes, he met with Thomas Melia but the meeting was most pleasant. The question of the Tamás Deutsch affair didn’t come up at all because he had already discussed the matter with Melia in Warsaw. Moreover, he didn’t go to Washington to explain anything. He was invited by the Hungarians of Cleveland for October 23 and he thought that as long as he was in the United States he might as well visit Washington and drop by the State Department.
Bolgár at this point asked Prőhle whether it is true that in fact he was hoping to meet Philip H. Gordon. The answer was that he and Gordon are not on the same level of the diplomatic hierarchy. I hope you notice that Prőhle again doesn’t address Bolgár’s question.
Bolgár pursued the “essence” of the article. Is it true that Melia told him that “in case the Hungarian government didn’t notice the importance of the démarche Washington is quite ready to repeat it without delay”? Prőhle denied that such a sentence had been uttered by Melia. They were having a pleasant conversation about Russia, among other things. The question of government financing of churches did come up, but he explained to Melia’s satisfaction that because the Hungarian churches had lost all their assets the practice of financing them is a form of compensation. Too bad that one has to explain that to the American diplomats.
Bolgár insisted. A journalist who puts text into quotation marks must have proof. Was this sentence uttered? Prőhle’s answer: “Not this way,” but a couple of sentences later he corrected himself and said that it was not uttered, period.
Bolgár then moved on to the “démarche.” Prőhle began with the question: “What is a démarche?” and he asked Bolgár to tell him what he means by “démarche.” After a good summary of the meaning of the word by Bolgár, Prőhle announced that he himself is very much interested in the question. After all, there can be a “verbal démarche” which is delivered in a written form. Diplomatic language can be quite peculiar. Perhaps two people just have a conversation. Is that a démarche?
Bolgár at this point interjected: “Surely the ambassador didn’t just pay a courtesy visit.” Clearly, the State Department asked her to visit the Hungarian prime minister. Prőhle at this point went into a fairly detailed description of the role of the ambassador who in his opinion is “a sovereign person.” Diplomacy is a delicate game. What is an ambassador’s assignment? It is difficult to put into words. Therefore, he is in a quandary answering Bolgár’s question about the démarche.
But returning to the question of this particular démarche. Indeed, there are “questions that are posed by the Americans and we try to answer them truthfully. Do they have concerns? When they pose questions, they surely also have concerns as well.”
Almost twenty minutes went by and Bolgár still didn’t get a straight answer from Prőhle: Was there or wasn’t there a written note? No, there was no written note and no démarche either. Melia simply asked questions. But what about the U.S. ambassador? According to Prőhle, Bolgár should define what he considers to be a démarche. “The liberal media have excellent resources, their journalists should discuss the matter with the State Department. They should ask them.” Bolgár should not address further questions about this matter to him. And Prőhle is one of the more pleasant officials of the Orbán government.
And now you can all decide whether there was or there wasn’t a démarche given to Viktor Orbán on October 18, 2011!