Attila Mesterházy’s official visit to Washington

Surprisingly little appeared in the Hungarian media about Attila Mesterházy’s official visit to Washington. I found mention of it only in Népszava a few days ago, and today a short article appeared in Népszabadság that summarized the seven-member MSZP delegation’s week in the United States.

On the other hand, Magyar Nemzet is always vigilant. On January 24 it picked up MTI’s interview with Mesterházy and described the trip this way: “Attila Mesterházy again ran to Washington.” Gabriella Selmeczi, the Fidesz spokeswoman, woke up a bit late, only after Attila Mesterházy’s interview had appeared in The Wall Street Journal the day before. Her comments were predictable: Mesterházy is again trying to discredit  Hungary abroad. In addition, according to her, the socialists favor banks over their own citizens and foreign companies over Hungarian ones. Such accusations almost always resonate with the nationalist Hungarian right.

Interestingly enough, I could find no other mention of this trip to Washington and New York although the available information indicates that it was a very successful visit for MSZP’s party leader.

On the first day, January 22, the Hungarian delegation, made up of younger socialists in their thirties, had a meeting with Madeleine Albright, U.S. secretary of state between 1993 and 1997, and two ranking members of the National Democratic Institute. NDI is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that has supported democratic institutions  all over the world in the last twenty-five years. Specifically, they want to strengthen political and civic organizations, safeguard elections, and promote citizen participation, openness and accountability in government. Albright is the chair of NDI. Kenneth D. Wollack, president, and Robert Benjamin, senior associate and regional director of Central and East European programs, were also present at the meeting that lasted more than an hour.

The next day Mesterházy gave a lecture in the headquarters of the German Marshall Fund. According to the MSZP press release (a biased source, naturally) there was great interest in what Mesterházy had to say. Among those who attended were members of the diplomatic corps, representatives of various U.S. government departments, businessmen, university professors, and Hungarian Americans. Mesterházy concentrated on MSZP’s plans for the future. There were many questions about the economy and the new electoral law. One of the members of the delegation was Csaba Kákosy, former minister of economics and transportation, who was actually nominated for the job in 2007 by SZDSZ but who is now economic adviser to MSZP. The title of the MSZP press release was “Washington is looking forward to a new beginning.” Surely, an optimistic reaction to a couple of days that the participants felt were a success.

Attila Mesterházy's lecture in the headquarters of the German Marshall Fund

Attila Mesterházy’s lecture in the headquarters of the German Marshall Fund

On the day of the American inauguration, the socialists had extensive discussions with some campaign advisers to the Democratic Party. MTI reported this piece of news, but I found no broader coverage of  it in the Hungarian media. The discussions centered around Internet communication, data-base building, opinion polls, and mobilization of the electorate. The release indicates that the socialists will not rely exclusively on Ron Werber but most likely will also hire advisers who were active in the Obama campaign.

In addition, Mesterházy and his fellow socialists met with the staff of the State Department who have a special interest in Hungary and the region in general, including Tomicah Tillemann, special adviser to the secretary of state, who is the grandson of the late Tom Lantos. Mesterházy also had a long conversation with Charles Gati, a professor at Johns Hopkins University. And the delegation had talks with the appropriate officials of the United States Holocaust Museum.

After leaving Washington, the socialist delegation visited New York where they had a meeting with the top officials of Freedom House, which was set up to support human rights and democracy, promote open government, defend human rights, strengthen civil society, and facilitate the free flow of information and ideas. Hungarians know Freedom House best for its yearly reports on media freedom.

After all of the official meetings, the socialist delegation “kicked back” with a group of about twenty Hungarian-Americans who have been getting together for dinner and conversation in the same restaurant for the past twenty-five years. The place used to serve Hungarian food but by now it is a Chinese restaurant. Included in the group were university professors, researchers, and managers. For more than two hours they discussed the economy, the student demonstrations, and the electoral law. The hosts were especially interested in the renewal of MSZP.

And now a few words about Mesterházy’s interview with The Wall Street Journal. From it we can glean more details of the socialist party chief’s conversations with officials in Washington and New York. Mesterházy apparently told the Americans that the socialists want to bring “the country back to a path of sustainable development.” He emphasized that “the party wants to clarify the separation of powers among the legislature, executive and judicial branches; restore authority removed from the Constitutional Court; ensure the independence of the central bank; expand press freedoms; and strengthen the country’s budget watchdog agency.” He pledged while in the United States that the socialists would “act swiftly and decisively to restore international trust in [Hungary’s] economy.” He also emphasized his intention to work together with former Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai as well as other “democratic” opposition groups. “I now see an almost 100% chance for an alliance to be formed.”

Mesterházy also pledged that the socialists would reduce the heavy banking-sector taxes levied by the Orbán government and thus free banks from their onerous financial burden so they could lend more readily. He also stated that “the war against foreign-owned companies must cease.” These are the remarks that prompted Gabriella Selmeczi to accuse the socialists of putting the interests of banks above those of ordinary citizens.

From what I heard from friends who met the socialists in Washington and New York, Mesterházy’s trip to the United States was a great success. Too bad that so little was said about it in the Hungarian media.

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Member

“Magyar Nemzet is always vigilant. On January 24 it picked up MTI’s interview with Mesterházy and described the trip this way: “Attila Mesterházy again ran to Washington.” versus Orban who has been running to Beijing and Moscow. THank goodness, finally we know who’s ideologies Magyar Nemzet firmly stands.

“[Gabriella Selmeczi’s] comments were predictable: Mesterházy is again trying to discredit Hungary abroad.” … Orban and Matolcsy are doing an excellent job with that without even trying, she could have added. Let remind everyone that Gabriella Selmeczi was caught steeling some baked goods from the local Tesco. Her opinion worth as much, as if Fidesz would put a porn magazine publisher at the head of the Media Council to look after the ethical issues. Wait a minute!

Paul
Guest

“caught steeling some baked goods from the local Tesco”

bad taste as well!

Sackhoes Contributor
Guest

Quite frankly I fail to see how this visit can be classified as a “great success’. The only official meeting the Socialist delegation had was with some unnamed staffers at the State Department and Tomicah Tilleson, who is a special adviser to the Secretary, but without any official status. As an informal visit to the US, it may have been a success, but as an official visit it was underwhelming. It should have been better prepared or postponed. Also, paying a visit to Washington, DC in the midst of the inauguration festivities was ill timed.

Guest
London Calling! “Bad taste” Paul? It is too easy to knock Tesco. Tesco’s provides much needed employment in Hungary – one of its largest employers. It is one of the few multi-nationals who have shown – arguably misplaced – faith in the country. The CEO in Hungary has warned Orban that it’s a fact of life that companys must be able to make a return on their investments – having been singled out for the Matolcsy’s punitive tax – simply for being a foreign company. And having to retail in a shocking 27% vat environment. It is clear that Tesco is losing money on the local ‘Tesco Express’- type shops. It will take a momentous decision to pull out of Hungary – but Tesco’s will do it if the business climate continues to deteriorate – as they did in America. When I visit Hungary – Tesco’s is an oasis of consumerism, in a country where ‘retailing’ is still in the dark ages. ‘Choice’ is non-existent. Retailers look at you sideways if you ask for features that are standard in other European countries – and take umbrage as if you are criticising them. And shop assistants are still just too rude… Read more »
Guest

Btw – Auchan, Practikar and other stores are on a knife-edge of survival too………Bricostores have already pulled out. Many retailing malls are barely making any profit – many being on life-support from the Banks.

petofi
Guest

Tesco

It certainly doesn’t help that the store is sabotaged by its own Hungarian workers, but no one who lives in-country would be surprised by that, would they?

My example: I used to go a Tesco that prepared a wonderful Turkey leg cooked. It was usually ready by 8:30am. Problem was, it sold out by 9:30, never to be
prepared again that day. Why? I asked. I’ve come a long way to buy it and once in the store, I buy other stuff as well. Although my complaint got to the division manager, nothing was done about it. In fact, they now no longer prepare a morning portion, either. Now, this isn’t an upper-Brit-management decision, I’m sure. Just a typical, stab-in-the-back, do-the-minimum mentality that Hungarian labour has become known for.

LwiiH
Guest
CharlieH : Btw – Auchan, Practikar and other stores are on a knife-edge of survival too………Bricostores have already pulled out. Many retailing malls are barely making any profit – many being on life-support from the Banks. Meetings in Washington: Hope they had a nice vacation because all they seemed to come away with are the sights. I have a question, did the entourage take some reporters with them and if not, why not? Reports fly on AirForce 1 for heaven sakes. It just shows a lack a maturity that suggests they’re not ready to run a country. As for Tesco. Our local Tesco has been involved in some scandals that have resulted in me mostly avoiding it. I’m sure these events of cheating were instigated by local management in response to the hostile environment coupled with head office demanding certain returns. But bleaching meat to keep it on the shelf…. The only competition is Spar and they seem to be struggling also. Banana’s are now a limited availability luxury item! And when you can’t get bananas you should see what the other stuff looks like! It feels as if super markets are not able to make the bids needed to… Read more »
Guest
Seems Mr Navracsics is doing a similar tour in Washington right now … Re shopping (since we’re already OT): We seem to be lucky – in Keszthely we have Tesco and Interspar, Aldi (our favourite), Lidl and Penny … What the one doesn’t have, the other will offer – so our shopping is like a tour: First Aldi for those special things, exotic fruit and vegetables (in winter even some varieties of paprika seem exotic) and German stuff that my wife has come to like, then Tesco for cheap offers and Interspar for the rest, like meat … Here CBA and the other Hungarian shops can’t compete at all. Re other shops for building materials etc: We just decided to do some renovations to the inside of our house. Our neighbour (a builder by profession) is out of work for a month or two so we went to five (!) shops for building materials, ytong bricks, tiles, silicon, paint etc … Not one of them had everything we/he needed and in every shop there were more salespeople than customers (even the Obi which is usually well frequented) … I must add however that all salespeople were very friendly and helpful… Read more »
Guest
London Calling! Yes O/T! Wolfi. I didn’t even mention the quality of the veg in Tesco’s and elsewhere (like InterSpar, for example). Buying veg in Hungary is a disaster – bought about by – I thought – Hungarians’ reluctance to eat vegetables (dangerous generalisation!). In Hungary ‘pickled any-veg’ is considered ‘green vegetables’ – and friends are reluctant to eat real green vegetables steamed – (it’s ‘rabbit food’!- they say). Any number of breadcrumb varieties and cooking oil though! The World Health Organisation has deemed pickled food as carcinogenic eaten in large quantities – so it puzzles me why so much is eaten. Supermarket veg is therefore a disaster with low demand – soft, too long on display and sometimes rotten. The choice of potatoes is terrible. I know you’ll say the markets are better – but hardly in my experience. When I return to England the first meal I cook is a ‘Veg-Fest’! (Honestly!). I go and buy as many green vegetables as possible and steam them (al dente – crunchy!) with some superb silky mash potato (Maris Pipers with real BUTTER!!!) and season with salt, (BLACK) pepper and more butter. Yes ‘Spring Greens’ – Sweetheart Cabbage – Runner beans… Read more »
Kirsten
Guest

Charlie, I am happy to read that you enjoy the blessings of wealth. My experience is also that in relatively poorer countries the fruits and vegetables in the stores are cheaper but often denoted as “second class” (I do not know whether this is the proper English term for it), as the higher quality products are sold in the wealthier countries for a higher price. In Prague (I do not know how it looks in the less wealthy areas of the Czech Republic), it started to change in the average supermarket also only some years ago, when incomes rose. Perhaps you need not reproach the average customer, who may have some responsibility for the whole situation to the extent that he is also an average citizen, but in this case individually will not change much. Vegetables and fruits can be supplied also from the own gardens – as we all know, a favourite strategy of OV anyway.

Guest

To continue OT:

First, pickling food is an easy and relatively cheap way to conserve vitamins – so it was a necessity in the “good old times”. My parents did it too.

Second, in the summer there is no shortage of fresh fruit and vegetables …

Third, when you look at the shelves right now and see strawberries from god-only-knows-where at 2000 HUF a kilo, I totally understand the buyers’ reluctance …

But sometimes you can get say nice paprika or fennel from Spain or Morocco and other stuff (avocado eg, my wife has come to enjoy these, though she was already over 60 years when she first tried them – at my insistence) from Israel at reasonable prices and good quality – as long as they’re fresh!

So we hunt the supermarkets almost every second day to find good (and not too expensive!) stuff …

Member

“Friends of Hungary” (Orban’s official propaganda tool in US) published a photo claiming to show Hungarians murdered by Tito’s partisans in 1945.

http://hvg.hu/itthon/20130129_friends_of_hungary_dachau_verengzes

It turns out that the photo was shot in Dachau by an American showing Jewish victims.

http://www.chgs.umn.edu/histories/minnesotans/andHolocaust/pastche/index.html

Cheaters for Orban are caught.

Member

CharlieH,
I think Paul had Gabriella Selmeczi’s memorable gambit with the bakery stuff in mind and not the Tesco per se.

It was a cover story those times which must not be forgot to the Senator.
At least it can be added to her blacklist.

In my opinion the poor quality and lack of vegetable variety is merely adjusted to customers’ pocket so that the suparmarket could be run more profitably.

In Hungary’s richest regions one can find fresh and expesive vegetables;
Rich people do not go shopping to Tesco, its customers consist mostly of people with lower income.

Member

tappanch :
“Friends of Hungary” (Orban’s official propaganda tool in US) published a photo claiming to show Hungarians murdered by Tito’s partisans in 1945.
http://hvg.hu/itthon/20130129_friends_of_hungary_dachau_verengzes
It turns out that the photo was shot in Dachau by an American showing Jewish victims.
http://www.chgs.umn.edu/histories/minnesotans/andHolocaust/pastche/index.html
Cheaters for Orban are caught.

It seems that “Friends of Family” erased the evidence of their cheating from facebook at 9:30 AM (ET).

Guest

London Calling!

Thank you Dénes and Kirsten.

I did go off at a tangent!

I disagree that Tesco’s is for the poor demographic. And ‘fresh’ vegetables are not a diet for the impoverished – or the rich!

Surely with Hungary’s land mass and agricultural history – winter vegetables should be healthy and available.

The ‘spring greens’ we are enjoying in England come from Cornwall in the West – and Cabbage from Lincolnshire.

Potato crops – like everything – have been hit by the wet weather we have had, contrary to the weather in Hungary where corn crops have been poor – due to dry weather!

Yes asparagus and similar veg are products for the rich – but surely Hungary must be the vegetable basket of CEE – as it is the fruit basket in the summer?

I know the water melon crop was subsidised by Orban – but why was this necessary? No one wanted to harvest the crop it seemed.

Some of the non-veg eaters I have encountered are not poor either.

Keep eating those pickles!

Regards

Charlie

Ron
Guest

CharlieH: Surely with Hungary’s land mass and agricultural history – winter vegetables should be healthy and available.

It used to be like this. Unfortunately, with collapse of the system in 1990 and falling away of the old Warsaw-pact markets agriculture is down in Hungary. Please find a pdf file published in Slovakia: http://www.pulib.sk/elpub2/FM/Kotulic13/pdf_doc/10.pdf

Please note figure one page 110 the decrease of arable land in Hungary, especially during MDF and Fidesz governments. It looks like Mszp did more for the agriculture than these two governments.

Kirsten
Guest

Charlie, next time you are in Hungary, please ask your partner to translate what is written about the source and quality (minöseg) of the products. About exactly today I do not know and my latest information is already some months old but to my knowledge the difference in the price between the UK and Hungary is not only because of the cheap labour in Hungary. (The Hungarian producers also try to earn more by exporting what can be sold at higher prices.) And also, the average income, of which you wrote that you are aware, also guides people in the decision whether they prefer the home grown (and pickled) fruits and vegetables or whether it is bought – in winter – in shops.

Member

CharlieH :
I know the water melon crop was subsidised by Orban – but why was this necessary? No one wanted to harvest the crop it seemed.

The area of water melon crop land shrunk dramatically to one third over the time.

Therefore the price asked by Hungarian farmers was not nearly competitive with much cheaper imported melon.

This was the reason for establishing this melon cartel arranged by dep. sec. Gyula Budai, according to my interpretation. (I am far from being authentic though).

(Must have been some FIDESZ business! My healthy paranoia makes me write this conteo, until I am convinced about the opposit!).

I have to admit it was good for melon growers but it was much more expensive for final customers.

Hungary, as the vegetable basket of CEE is thing of the past.

Kirsten
Guest

Believe it or not, but “fruit and vegetables” have a higher weight in the average Hungarian consumer basket (average consumer purchases) than in the average UK’s basket (3.2 % v. 2.5 %)…

Ron
Guest

Kirsten :
Believe it or not, but “fruit and vegetables” have a higher weight in the average Hungarian consumer basket (average consumer purchases) than in the average UK’s basket (3.2 % v. 2.5 %)…

Here is a report of the Canadian Embassy regarding agriculture in general, and retail outlets as well as pricing.

http://ats-sea.agr.gc.ca/eur/4559-eng.htm

Member

Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe is happy with the changes the Orban government has introduced in the judiciary (what kind of changes?) and satisfied that Orban promised to change the media law and he is satisfied with the media freedom in Hungary.

http://www.abcnyheter.no/nyheter/2013/01/29/thorbjoern-jagland-godkjenner-medielov-og-rettsvesen-i-ungarn

Member

Thorbjørn Jagland, as the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee since January 1, 2009 awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama. Jagland personally convinced three of the five members of the committee to vote for Obama.

Will Mr Orban receive the 2013 prize?

gdfxx
Guest

LwiiH :

CharlieH :
Btw – Auchan, Practikar and other stores are on a knife-edge of survival too………Bricostores have already pulled out. Many retailing malls are barely making any profit – many being on life-support from the Banks.

Meetings in Washington: Hope they had a nice vacation because all they seemed to come away with are the sights. I have a question, did the entourage take some reporters with them and if not, why not? Reports fly on AirForce 1 for heaven sakes. It just shows a lack a maturity that suggests they’re not ready to run a country.

I doubt that the financial abilities to transport reporters on a quasi-private 747 (AirForce One) of the US President can be compared to those of the MSZP leader. After all Mesterhazy cannot afford a trillion dollar deficit a year…

gdfxx
Guest

tappanch :
Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe is happy with the changes the Orban government has introduced in the judiciary (what kind of changes?) and satisfied that Orban promised to change the media law and he is satisfied with the media freedom in Hungary.
http://www.abcnyheter.no/nyheter/2013/01/29/thorbjoern-jagland-godkjenner-medielov-og-rettsvesen-i-ungarn

I saw this earlier today, I have to say that I was shocked.

Paul
Guest
“London Calling! “Bad taste” Paul? It is too easy to knock Tesco.” Have you lost the plot, Charlie? I wasn’t knocking Tesco, I was merely commenting (as I often have) on their baked products, which are generally bland and uninteresting. Just about everyone we know would never buy their pogácsa, zsemle or kifli in Tesco, the ones in the local pékség are vastly superior. In fact the best in our neighbourhood happen to be found in the local Co-op – but then they are supplied by a local bakery, not baked on the premesis by people who are clearly not bakers. Ditto for fruit and veg – no one I know buys theirs in Tesco, the little local shops and the markets always have better quality fruit and veg, and if you want anything they don’t stock, there’s always the more up-market supermarkets in town. But, for many other things, Tesco have a range and price other shops can’t compete with, so I still wobble over to our local store twice a week on my bike. And, as it happens, I have shares in Tesco, as I worked there for several years, so I’m actually quite interested in Tesco doing… Read more »
Budapester
Guest
As regards the availability of vegetables in Hungary: we live in the 6th district of Budapest, where we can walk to many wonderful fruit and vegetable shops, as well as market-halls with vegetable stalls, butcher stalls, coffee bean sellers, and dairy stalls. We often go to Metro (members only) on the edge of town, and, for some foreign things that we can’t find elsewhere, Tesco. Finally, very close to the Parliament building, there is a wonderful gourmet shop that sells all manner of exotic foreign foods (they have two other locations in town, great customer service, and “western” hours of operation). We aren’t wealthy, but we’re doing very well, so we can afford to pay 1600 forints (about 5 euros) per kilo for high-quality broccoli, the same as one would get in Western Europe. Just last night we had avocadoes that were flawless, but not cheap. Decent lettuce is hard to find in winter, but we manage. We stopped buying vegetables and fruit at Tesco long ago; about the time that they started making us wait in line to weigh our own and get a sticker, so that we could wait in line at the register just as long as… Read more »
Paul
Guest
As for pickled veg, etc, this is part and parcel of Hungarian/Eastern European (possibly all Europe, excluding the UK) culture. It’s simply the easiest way to preserve the summer’s harvest. Maybe you should try some? When we get our occasional Hungarian food parcels in the UK, the first things to be sampled are always the pickled uborka and the many fruits my in-laws spend weeks bottling each autumn. You’ll find nothing like that in the UK. And, as Kirsten says, Hungarians eat a lot more fruit and veg than most of us Brits. But, as always in poorer agricultural countries, the best commercially grown stuff goes for export (e.g. to us in the UK) and the locals have to make do with the ‘2nd class’ stuff. But, instead of going to Tesco, next time you want some fruit and veg, try the local markets, you’ll be amazed at the quality and variety. Get your partner to do the talking though – they’ll see you coming a mile off! Like you, I used to miss UK stuff when I was in Hungary in the early days, but once I got used to life over there I found that it ceased to… Read more »
Guest

The last comments re fruit and vegetables are really on target!

We also had more than a dozen crates of our own apples in the guest apartment, which is not used and heated in winter, though most of them are eaten by now …

And we still have a few large (3 liter) glass jars of dried apples -i t’s a lot of work for my wife, but these apple slices are so good …

And I also worked my share, putting sour cherries and berries and pears into several rum-pots …

And then we also have a dozen glass jars of lecsó – made when paprika was in abundance, good and cheap …

Of course we’re pensioners and have enough time to do this …

Potatoes (and eggs) we regularly buy from our neighbour and for Xmas we got several glasses of aprict and plum jam.

But still it’s nice to add some exotic fruit to your home-grown varieties!

Guest
London Calling! More O/T (apologies Eva!) Ron – your reports are very interesting! (Do you work in the sector?) The loss of 30,000 agricultural jobs since ‘accession’ (2004) may have something to do with the collapse of Hungary’s agriculture – it mentions that accession has nothing to do with: “…. the expectations about the further, drastic run-down of Hungarian agriculture (which) may become true,…” However Hungarian agriculture WAS the bread basket of the CEE in the period 2004-2008. Never has Hungarian agricultural production reached such heights. In addition imports of food have increased by 91% – which contrasts with Kirsten’s rejoinder that the best food is exported. (Your ‘Killer veg-fact’ is a surprise, Kirsten – thanks. – Doesn’t explain my experiences though!) Paul – thanks for your advice – I try not to be a ‘little Englander’! – I DO try – and enjoy – Hungarian pickles and have found them a surprising delicacy! Yes, ‘uborka’ is quite an art, which I have discovered too – but didn’t recognise the name. I have recently lost 14Kg in weight – and pickles have featured more due to my ‘Hungarian experiences’. But I am mindful of the fact that they may not… Read more »
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