For days now the Hungarian media, with the help of MTI, have been buzzing about those American-Hungarians, all 1.5 million of them, who are outraged at the concerted attack on Hungary and the Hungarians. Once again the center of attention is the “Hungarian Lobby” that was organized at least twenty years ago by Béla Lipták. Lipták became known in Hungary during the Bős/Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros controversy between Slovakia and Hungary over a dam that was supposed to be built on the Danube. Those of you who would like to know more about the history and fate of that project should read the Wikipedia entry.
In any case, shortly after his activities in Hungary he returned to the United States to which he had emigrated in 1956. He immediately launched a new project. Inspired by the Jewish Defense League he decided to start an Internet organization that would battle anti-Hungarian sentiment wherever he found it. He called it the Hungarian Lobby/Magyar Lobbi. He and his fellow lobbyists kept close tabs on the media, mostly American, and if they saw critical comments that were not to their liking they would bombard the guilty newspaper with letters to the editor.
The call usually comes from Béla Lipták who first writes a form letter for members of the group. The “readers” can make a few stylistic changes in order for the letter-writing campaign to look more genuine.
Actually, the name “Hungarian Lobby” is misleading. Lipták and his people complain only when Fidesz, Viktor Orbán, or the Orbán government is criticized. They also become active when the question of the Hungarian minority comes up. Otherwise, the American media could say the most god-awful things about Ferenc Gyurcsány or Gordon Bajnai, they would never raise their voices.
The first call to action came from Béla Lipták when Tina Rosenberg, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, wrote an article in The New York Times (“Is Viktor Orban Too Old to Lead Hungary?” June 27, 1998) in which she expressed her fears about the young Viktor Orbán “who has made some alarmingly nationalist statements and unrealistic economic promises.” Dozen of letters arrived at The New York Times, all coming to the defense of Viktor Orbán. I decided to be contrary and wrote a short letter expressing my hope that “Mr. Orban’s promises will remain only promises. Otherwise, the economic recovery of the last three years will come to naught.” Mine was published, theirs wasn’t. I guess I don’t have to detail the reaction.
Now that both politicians and journalists are doing an awful lot of criticizing, Béla Lipták is terribly busy. First, he called on his followers to write letters to José Manuel Barroso, Ellie Rehn, and Neelie Kroes. Next, he moved into high gear after the publication of a very hard-hitting editorial in The New York Times entitled “Hungary’s Lurch Backward.” Lipták wrote a letter to the editor that never got published. It never got any farther than the readers of Hungarian Lobby. However, I will quote a few choice passages verbatim, including the wrong grammar and spelling errors, because it says a lot about Lipták and the intellectual content of his endeavors. According to Lipták “there is no free-er media in Europe as that of Hungary. The one radio station that might go off the air (it did not yet) is one that submitted the lowest bid for the use of the airwaves. The increasing of the number of judges have been withdran, but even if it was not, it would have been no different from what FRD did. Therefore, to suggest that democracy is at risk is only an excuse. The reason is that the Hungarians are stepping on the toes of the banks and they do not like that, besause from Israel, Scotland, France, Lithuania, Poland and England, the media is beginning ot report on this.”
To show that members of the Hungarian Lobby mean business, Lipták also organized a demonstration in front of the New York Times Building. I’ll bet that the journalists inside were shaking in their boots.
A cozy gathering of members of the Hungarian Lobby in New York
I don’t want to copy the whole letter, but I can’t quite leave out the following golden thoughts on the role of the central bank. “The true situation is that Hungarians want to keep the independence of the Hungarian National Bank–but from whom? Not from their own government, after all the national bank’s money is their money, not of the IMF’s or the CEB’s.” One can only be ashamed that such letters are sent from an organization called the Hungarian Lobby.
Okay, so that letter to the editor wasn’t published. A week later came a new effort. This time a petition to President Barack Obama. I will be kind and quote from the cleaned up version of the text as it appeared in Hungary thanks to the good offices of MTI. The Hungarian news agency did the government a favor and translated the Lobby’s petition.
In it Béla Lipták expresses the concern of the entire Hungarian-American community “who are concerned about the letter sent by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orbán. We are concerned, because by supporting the opposition, it interferes with the internal politics of Hungary. We do understand that the Secretary’s letters are prepared by her assistants,–some probably supporters of the Hungarian opposition–, but still it was sent under her signature and therefore the media views it as the American position.”
And from here it only goes downhill. We hear about the IMF and the EU applying “neo-colonial pressure on Hungary.” “Hungary is being lectured about the need to sort out its economy, but is also being subjected to a culture war.” “We also object [to what is unclear], because the information in the letter came from the supporters of the Hungarian opposition, having the goal to topple the freely elected government.”
Lipták and company are finally asking the U.S. president “to help make us, Hungarian-Americans proud of our heritage, try to protect Hungary from the suffocating exploitation by the globalized banking industry.” In return, Lipták makes a generous offer: “Dear Mr. President, thanks a lot in advance for helping Hungary, so that we, the politically independent Hungarian-Americans, can reciprocate by voting for you in November.” And what will happen if the President doesn’t tell Hillary Clinton to reverse her policies in Hungary? I guess all those politically independent Hungarian-Americans just may not vote for Obama.
Lipták managed to get only 77 signatures to his letter to Obama. Not 150 as he claimed in a telephone interview with the pro-Fidesz Hír TV. And although the Hungarian Lobby claims more than 1,200 members, it is clear that most people on the list don’t actively participate in Béla Lipták’s madcap schemes.
A few words about the 1.5 million Hungarians in the United States. In the Hungarian nationalists’ dreams! First, this is just an estimate of how many living Americans have some Hungarian roots. This may mean one set of Hungarian grandparents or great grandparents who left Hungary prior to 1914. But most of the so-called Hungarian immigrants of those days were actually Slovak-speaking. That is, the bulk of the Hungarian emigration in the late nineteenth century came from counties that today belong to Slovakia. They were called “Hunkies” here, but they were “Slovak Hunkies.” So, it is very possible that by the third or fourth generation, the person asked will know only that his grandparents came from “Hungary.”
And finally, the Hungarian Lobby, just like other Hungarian immigrant groups, has the habit of speaking in the name of “Hungarian-Americans.” Those who signed Lipták’s petition to President Obama represent only themselves. And yet the propagandists in the government and/or MTI felt it necessary to emphasize that these organizations carry weight at elections. They called on Enikő Bollobás, who was described as “an expert.” I assumed that she was an expert on American elections. But no, Ms. Bollobás is an expert on American literature. As far as her politics are concerned, she is a Fidesz sympathizer who worked for the Hungarian Foreign Ministry between 1990 and 1994, during the Antall and Boross governments. Since then she has devoted herself to teaching and writing.
Meanwhile, my cousin’s first question to me today was: “What do you think of the petition that American-Hungarians wrote to President Obama?” I explained to her that this is only government propaganda carried out with the help of a small group of people representing nobody.