Hungarian media reaction to the U.S. Helsinki Commission’s hearing on Hungary

Now that the U.S. Helsinki Commission’s hearing on Hungary is over, let’s take a look at how much Hungarian citizens learned about what transpired in Washington on March 19. MTI’s Washington correspondent was present and sent very brief summaries. Judging from the precise dating of the MTI reports, all four or five reports were written while the hearing was going on. All of them, with the exception of the description of József Szájer’s speech, were extremely short. Benjamin Cardin and Brent Hartley merited only 137 words while Kim Scheppele’s fairly lengthy testimony was summarized in 135 words. Not much can be said about such complex topics as the constitution, the rule of law, antisemitism, and the Holocaust in only a few sentences. The description of Szájer’s speech was extensive (634 words). By way of comparison, most of my posts are between 900 and 1,200 words.

Helsinki CommissionNot surprisingly, the right-wing papers that were not too eager to publicize the criticisms of the Orbán government from the three people who testified simply copied out MTI’s reports, playing up Szájer’s speech and giving practically no coverage to what Benjamin Cardin, Brent Hartley, Kim Scheppele, Sylvana Habdank-Kolaczkowska, or Paul Shapiro had to say.

However, thanks to modern technology and the well-prepared newspapermen of Népszabadság, HVG,  and Index, a more balanced account reached the Hungarian public almost simultaneously with MTI’s super-short reports. The first to report was Népszabadság, about 20 minutes after the hearing ended. The headline repeated what Kim Scheppele had said during her testimony: “Hungary is on the verge of tyranny.” In the article itself the journalist offered a short (316 words) description of what transpired during the proceedings.

It was nearly twenty-four hours later that Magyar Nemzet first mentioned the names of Ben Cardin, Brent Hartley, and Kim Scheppele. Paul Shapiro, it seems, was not considered important enough to be mentioned by name. He was described merely as “one of the employees of the U.S. Holocaust Museum.” Neither Sylvana Habdank-Kolaczkowska nor Freedom House was mentioned at all. Kim Scheppele was described as “the loudest [leghangosabb] critic of the Hungarian government.” By the way, one normally talks about the “severest [legkeményebb] critic.” “Loudest” carries the connotation of lacking substance or foundation.

Now let’s see how József Szájer and Gergely Gulyás viewed the hearing itself, the American officials, and their own roles in the proceedings. Up to now I haven’t written much about Gergely Gulyás, who is the rising star of Fidesz. He is in his early 30s, good looking, and way above the run-of-the-mill Fidesz-KDNP party hacks in mental ability. Gulyás’s role seemed to be to hand two books on Hungary to Senator Cardin. Apparently one of them was on the police brutality in September-October 2006. Otherwise he silently sat next to Szájer while the latter delivered his speech. It was clear from his expression that Gulyás was extremely satisfied with Szájer and most likely admired one of the founders of the party for his eloquence.

Szájer immediately gave a telephone interview to a reporter of a new outfit called Hungarian Globe, which is part of Mandiner, an Internet paper run by young conservatives. Besides this one interview and the texts of the testimonies I found nothing else on the Hungarian Globe site. According to Szájer, “the level of interest was rather weak, only one U.S. senator who is the chairman and no congressmen showed up.” Otherwise the hearing was not properly balanced because “the other three witnesses were heavily critical of the Hungarian situation. The verdict was already decided before the trial, but at least Gergely Gulyás and I had the chance to make our contributions.” (Gulyás’s only contribution was the lecture he gave Cardin about the proper pronunciation of his name.) Szájer complained that “the chairman sometimes wasn’t even sure which country the hearing was about. He mentioned Austria a couple of times instead of Hungary.” On the other hand, he felt that the chairman “showed a positive attitude towards my offer [of dialogue] and understood my message.” As for the quality of the other participants, “we heard numerous biased, partly or completely untrue remarks.” He was especially critical of Paul Shapiro who was accused of “a number of false and misleading details during his testimony…. I was expecting a more correct approach.”

Gergely Gulyás also talked to journalists, and to Index he repeated the same belief that no one is really interested in Hungary in the U.S. government because members of the Committee were not present. He even claimed that most of the people present were reporters. I talked to people who attended the hearing, and they reported that this simply was not true. The hearing was held in a small room for forty people and seventy people were present. Several people stood along the walls for two solid hours. Index also stressed that the Helsinki Commission is in fact a very important body with big names from both sides of the aisle.

All in all, the coverage was skimpy, although it became a convenient forum for taking the occasional pot shot at the U.S.. One Internet website from Pécs talked about “American darkness [homály],” implying ignorance. Many right-wing papers made fun of Ben Cardin, portraying him as senile because he didn’t even know what country the hearing was about. One gets so tired of the old joke about Americans who mix up Budapest and Bucharest. Now we will hear about mixing up Hungary with Austria.

I would not, however, take the criticism of Brent Hartley of the State Department lightly. His words carried a serious warning, and he made it clear at the end of his speech that his message reflects the views of the U.S. State Department. Although I think Szájer comported himself well, the evidence against the Hungarian government is too solid to be shaken by a list of cleverly constructed half-truths. It is possible that his forcefully delivered speech might mislead someone not thoroughly familiar with the facts, but those responsible for Hungary and the region in the State Department will not be swayed by Szájer’s twisting of the truth.

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gdfxx
Guest

“As for the quality of the other participants, “we heard numerous biased, partly or completely untrue remarks.” He was especially critical of Paul Shapiro who was accused of “a number of false and misleading details during his testimony…. I was expecting a more correct approach.””

I would be curious to hear Mr. Szajer’s detailed listing of the “false and misleading details” or even better, a debate between him and Paul Shapiro on the truthfulness of the “details”.

Paul
Guest

“Now we will hear about mixing up Hungary with Austria.”

It’s easy to tell which is which – just wait for the next big snow storm. One side of the border the roads will be clear, the other side people will be dying in their cars, whilst’ voluteers’ struggle with shovels.

Guest
Győr Calling! That the Helsinki Commission’s hearings should receive trivial coverage and unbalanced reportage is no surprise. The state of the media is, after all, one of their main concerns – and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In addition Szájer can do an ‘Orban’ – “I slapped them around the face a little!” on his hero’s return to BP. Which makes me wonder why he was given this propaganda coup in the first place – after all (2) he could have been expected to warp the truth as he did. It will be testimony which will be difficult to refute. My interpretation versus your’s. Cardin was far too polite with him – but this was contrasted by the carefully balanced negative observations. Szájer will have great difficulty explaining away the long-term holes in the constitution – when he said don’t worry about your interpretation of the law – it is untested so won’t happen! (At least this is my interpretation of what he said – and is the exact opposite of what lawyers try to achieve with tightly drawn, nailed down, law – where even a miss-placed comma can cause no end of trouble!) This may well turn round and bite… Read more »
Guest

I did not hear these mix-ups when I was there–and I was only 2 rows behind Mr. Szajer. Anyone hear them from the video? I did notice that Mr. Hartley mis-pronounced ‘Fidesz’ as ‘fides’. But perhaps, like many, I hear what I want to hear.

Member
Somehow OT or not. Fidesz’ incompetence and lies at work: Apparently Fidesz is accusing Bajnai for collecting personal information and passing it on to foreign identities. On Bajnai’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/BajnaiGordon?fref=ts you can click and sign up to Egyutt 2014 movement. THey ask you name, email address, postal code. According to Fidesz they also implant a “software” into the computers of those who signed up. THis is all illegal! Yes? NO!!!! THe “software” they are talking about are “cookies” or “suit” in Hungarian , and almost any website you visit plants this in your computer. Fidesz has cookies, so does Viktor Orban. THese dimwits have no idea about the Internet and computers whatsoever. You do not believe me? DId you ever visit Fidesz’ or Orban’s home page? If you did, go to your browser preferences, then go to your privacy, and under you will be able to see the cookies that are planted in your computer. Facebook (is the foreign network obviously Fidesz is so afraid of) has a cookie. THey track your behaviour on Facebook and otherwise. THey track not only Bajnai’s visitors, but anyone’s visitors. Check your cookies, you will also find Fidesz.hu and Fidesz.com planted a cookie.… Read more »
gdfxx
Guest

CharlieH :
Cardin was far too polite with him – but this was contrasted by the carefully balanced negative observations.

I had the same reaction but then I said: this politeness is not for Szajer, it is for the friendly allied country.

gdfxx
Guest

Gretchen :
I did not hear these mix-ups when I was there–and I was only 2 rows behind Mr. Szajer. Anyone hear them from the video? I did notice that Mr. Hartley mis-pronounced ‘Fidesz’ as ‘fides’. But perhaps, like many, I hear what I want to hear.

I heard the Senator once saying Austr and then quickly correct it to Hungary.

Guest

Gretchen yes he did – twice…mention Austria when he meant Hungary.

I squirmed.

Bit of a diplomatic gaff, I’m afraid.

tinshed (@tinshed)
Guest

CharlieH :
Gretchen yes he did – twice…mention Austria when he meant Hungary.
I squirmed.
Bit of a diplomatic gaff, I’m afraid.

From my memory Cardin said Austria in a question to Szájer when clearly he meant Hungary. Szájer made the most of it claiming he didn’t understand the question. It was just a slip of the tongue. If FIDESZ and its supporters wish to make any more of it than that, well, that speaks volumes about them. Cardin’s message was pretty clear: what is happening in Hungary matters as much for what it means for other countries in the region and the possibility that the “Hungarian disease” would spread. Other countries may be emboldened by what they see happening in Hungary and the fact that Hungary is “getting away with it”. The warning is clear.

Csaba K. Zoltani
Guest
Mr.Shapiro, who calls himself “lobbyist for the truth”, is free to express his political views and interpretations of history as he likes, and I have no objections to it. At the same time when he seeks to buttress his views with “historical facts”, fact checking should be in order. His testimony is replete with inaccuracies; here are a few. On page 3, he states that “invasion of Hungary by German forces in mid October” when in fact Hungary was invaded by the Germans on March 18, 1944. The “Hungarian military suffered some 300,000 casualties during the war” is incorrect. According to a number of published sources, the figures are considerably higher. The Vienna Accords, that returned parts of Transylvania with a majority of Hungarian population to Hungary was not “violation of post WWI national boundaries” but a mutually agreed to and signed agreement by the governments of Italy, Germany, Romania and Hungary. Contrary what is stated in the testimony, Hungarian Army did not participate in the battle for Stalingrad. Istvan Deak in several of his published works, clearly states that the number of victims of the Hungarian Holocaust cannot be determined accurately. His numbers are lower than what we read… Read more »
Bowen
Guest

@ Csaba K. Zoltani

Is that all? You missed that Shapiro also failed to pronounce ‘Jobbik’, ‘Nyilas’ or ‘Szálasi’ with the correct Hungarian pronunciation.

But apart from that, all the rest of his testimony was fine, right?

Member

Orban’s propaganda machine, through MTI, is mounting a counterattack – they refer to Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R) defending Orban’s record.

http://index.hu/kulfold/2013/03/21/smith_meltanytalanok_a_magyar_kormanyt_ert_biralatok/

I was not able to find any statement on his website:

http://chrissmith.house.gov/

Pete H.
Guest

@Csaba – it is also time consuming to fact check a presumed fact checkers “facts”.

Deborah S. Cornelius. 2011. Hungary in World War II: Caught in the Cauldron. Fordham University Press, New York.

Pages 217 to 218.

Hungarian 2nd Army held the northeastern flank.

What are your sources fact checker?

Csaba K. Zoltani
Guest

Antony Beevor in his book Stalingrad, the Fateful Siege, Viking 1998, on page 64 has a map showing the position of the different army groups. The German 6th Army covers the left flank while the Hungarian 2nd Army is several hundred km away according to the map. No, the Hungarians did not participate in the battle for Stalingrad.

Bowen
Guest

Important news just in from the Ministry of Truth!

Ferenc Kumin has managed to find out some FACTS about the Helsinki Commission hearing. I wonder if Csaba K. Zoltani has time to fact check it for us.

Anyway, apart from the hearing having almost no-one in the audience, Ferenc, has also managed to find “other members of the US Congress” (actually, only one) who thinks Orban is right.

Apparently, according to Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey (I don’t know anything about him), constitutional checks are alive and well. Good news, everyone!

http://ferenckumin.tumblr.com/

gdfxx
Guest

I keep hearing about this “conversation among equals”. I have news for Mr. Kumin and Mr. Szajer: the USA and Hungary are not equals. One is the world’s strongest democracy with a constitution that is the base of all its laws, one that is respected; the other one is a small operetta tyranny of a group of mobsters, its strength is represented by parades of huszars, with a constitution that is ignored and modified any moment a government decision contradicts it. And then I am ignoring some of the other reasons for the two countries not being equal…

Member

@csaba zoltani

If I were you, I would not bring up the second Vienna award, aka Northern Transylvania.

Without the 151,000 Jews, another 15,000 people considered Jews, the Gypsies (most of them counted as Hungarians in the 1941 Hungarian census) and the Romanians that were expelled or fled in 1940-1941, the Hungarians were a minority.

Pete H.
Guest

@Csaba,

What he actually wrote on page 3 – “After Horthy was ousted following the invasion of Hungary by German forces in mid-October, in the wake of a last-minute attempt to extricate Hungary from its alliance with Hitler (Soviet troops were already advancing across the country’s borders), the Hungarian fascist Arrow Cross Party (Nyilas) government that took over had no such hesitation. ”

Shapiro was talking about the date that Horthy was ousted, not when the invasion occurred. Horthy was taken to the western train station by German troops on Oct. 17th.

You should read more carefully when “fact checking”.

Paul
Guest

As an ignorant Brit, can I just ask a rather obvious question – what was the point of this hearing?

Does the Helsinki Commission have any power to do anything about what it discovers – even if that’s just to ask the US government to do something? Is it a part of the US government? When it reports, what happens as a result of those reports?

It’s good to hear all these condemnations of Orbán, but if that’s all it is he’ll just ignore it – what we need is for the US to DO something. Is that likely to happen as a result of this?

Sorry for ignorant questions, but we don’t have anything like this over here.

Andrew Bodrogligeti
Guest
Being one of the people who had to stand along the wall in this very cramped hearing room, I can attest to the thoroughness of the testimony provided by the American panel of experts. Kim Scheppele’s presentation was quite well researched and based on primary sources, including daily readings of Magyar Kozlony, to keep track of changes toi the constitution that most Hungarians likely are not familiar with. I found it shocking that Szajer pressed the argumnent that extraordinary measures were needed to stave off the crisis (near bankruptcy) in 2010, meaning the need to rewrite the constitution and toss out 20 years of constitutional case law to boot, as well as to ensure that changes to the constitution don’t receive any sort of review or vote by the populace. With Fidesz’s overtures to far right voters, and its attempt to rehabilitate Arrow Cross ideologues, this evokes the memory of the latter days of the Weimar republic and the need to “justify” total control to save the republic. Its all very disturbing, indeed, and although I would argue that Horthy was not Hungarys Hitler, the veneration of Horthy to cult-like status (along with writers like Nyiro) by extremist elements in… Read more »
Pete H.
Guest

Csaba K. Zoltani :
Antony Beevor in his book Stalingrad, the Fateful Siege, Viking 1998, on page 64 has a map showing the position of the different army groups. The German 6th Army covers the left flank while the Hungarian 2nd Army is several hundred km away according to the map. No, the Hungarians did not participate in the battle for Stalingrad.

You have a rather limited definition of a battle. The Battle for Stalingrad did not compromise fighting only in the city of it immeadte environs. It was a regional operation not a fight for a hilltop. The Germans deployed forces from several nations to protect their flanks to try and prevent the Russians from encircling them. The Russians did attack these protective flanks that were comprised to Hungarian and Romanian forces. The Hungarian army protected a 200 km line as part of the battle for Stalingrad.

This is what Shapiro was referring to, and you can not legitimately claim he made a false statement.

The Hungarian 2nd Army were not tourists on a sightseeing tour. What do you think the Hungarian Army was doing there at that time?

Csaba K. Zoltani
Guest

I am not familiar with any book, and I have access to quite a number, including the recently published Don Kanyar Don Bend 1942-1943, that describes the Honved 2nd Army as having anything to do or even being close to Stalingrad. These books have maps but these do not even show Stalingrad. To claim that the Hungarian Army fought in the battle of Stalingrad, is simply mistaken.

gdfxx
Guest

Csaba K. Zoltani :
Interestingly, Albert Wass’ son graduated first in his class at West Point and later became a general of the U.S. Army. Had his father been a war criminal, as Mr. Shapiro writes, he never would have been admitted to the select few of the U.S. Army.

Admission to to West Point is not based on the parents origin or their ideology. It is based on a recommendation by a US House member.

LwiiH
Guest

Csaba K. Zoltani :
Antony Beevor in his book Stalingrad, the Fateful Siege, Viking 1998, on page 64 has a map showing the position of the different army groups. The German 6th Army covers the left flank while the Hungarian 2nd Army is several hundred km away according to the map. No, the Hungarians did not participate in the battle for Stalingrad.

I think it you actually read the book rather than just look at the pictures you’ll see that the Hungarian army was engaged in the battle. They just didn’t make it into the city.

Csaba K. Zoltani
Guest

Sorry folks, the Hungarian Army was NOT engaged in the battle for Stalingrad. There is no verifiable proof otherwise, unless one claims that the factory worker thousands of miles away, who manufactured the guns used there by the Germans, were also engaged.

LwiiH
Guest

Csaba K. Zoltani :
I am not familiar with any book, and I have access to quite a number, including the recently published Don Kanyar Don Bend 1942-1943, that describes the Honved 2nd Army as having anything to do or even being close to Stalingrad. These books have maps but these do not even show Stalingrad. To claim that the Hungarian Army fought in the battle of Stalingrad, is simply mistaken.

This is a completely ridiculous sidebar. No one said they were in the city but then you don’t need to be in the middle to be involved.

hoppe hoppe hoppe
Guest

AHF and HRFA?

The American Hungarian Federation – Founded 1906 – http://www.americanhungarianfederation.org/

HRFA Hungarian Reformed Federation of America (Washington, DC)

I hope that the leadership and membership of these organizations abandon their blind approval of the Orban regime, and support a change to decency.

gdfxx
Guest
Here is the introduction of the Battle of Stalingrad from Wikipedia: Battle of Stalingrad Strength Initial: 270,000 men 3,000 artillery pieces 500 tanks 600 aircraft, 1,600 by mid-September (Luftflotte 4)[Note 3][1] At the time of the Soviet counter-offensive: 1,040,000 men: (400,000 Germans, 235,000 Italians, 200,000 Romanians, 200,000 Hungarians, 5,000 Croatians) 10,250 artillery pieces 500 tanks 732 (402 operational) aircraft[2]:p.225[3]:87 Initial: 187,000 men 2,200 artillery pieces 400 tanks 300 aircraft[1]:p.72 At the time of the Soviet counter-offensive: 2,500,000 men in total 1,143,000 men in Stalingrad area 13,451 artillery pieces 894[4]-4,000 tanks 1,115[2]:p.224 aircraft Casualties and losses est. 850,000 killed, missing or wounded including 107,000 captured (only 6000 survived the captivity and returned home to 1955) 900 aircraft (including 274 transports and 165 bombers used as transports) 1,500 tanks 6,000 artillery pieces[1]:122–123 Approx. 1,150,000 killed, missing or wounded including 478,741 killed and missing 650,878 wounded and sick 40,000 civilians dead 4,341 tanks 15,728 artillery pieces 2,769 combat aircraft [5] 1 Over 11,000 Axis soldiers continued to fight until early March 1943. The Battle of Stalingrad was a major and decisive battle of World War II in which Nazi Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of… Read more »
Csaba K. Zoltani
Guest

Information in Wikipedia is often unreliable, as in this case the numbers cited are incorrect. A cursory look at the map of Operation Little Saturn (the Soviet operation), will convince the reader that the Hungarian 2nd Army was approximately 400 km away from the site of the battle of Stalingrad.

Kim Lane Scheppele
Guest
Paul : As an ignorant Brit, can I just ask a rather obvious question – what was the point of this hearing? Does the Helsinki Commission have any power to do anything about what it discovers – even if that’s just to ask the US government to do something? Is it a part of the US government? When it reports, what happens as a result of those reports? It’s good to hear all these condemnations of Orbán, but if that’s all it is he’ll just ignore it – what we need is for the US to DO something. Is that likely to happen as a result of this? Sorry for ignorant questions, but we don’t have anything like this over here. The US Helsinki Commission is the American branch of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. It can recommend actions to the OSCE as part of the US’s membership in that organization and it can recommend actions to the US government to fulfill US commitments under the Final Helsinki Act 1975 and related documents. For the history, see http://history.state.gov/milestones/1969-1976/Helsinki and for the documents see http://www.osce.org/mc/58376 . The reason why I suggested election monitoring and a “Needs Assessment Mission”… Read more »
Wondercat
Guest

Paul, you made me Google the Helsinki Commission — http://csce.gov/index.cfm?FuseAction=AboutCommission.WorkOfCommission will lead you to a description of its remit and its activities. Glancing through that website makes me think that the minuet just danced was a part of establishing, for the use of the Congress and the executive-branch departments of Defense (note American spelling), State, and the Treasury, recommendations on what policies to adopt, in respect of human rights, toward a Hungary whose behaviour appears more and more extraordinary.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

Csaba K. Zoltani :
Sorry folks, the Hungarian Army was NOT engaged in the battle for Stalingrad. There is no verifiable proof otherwise, unless one claims that the factory worker thousands of miles away, who manufactured the guns used there by the Germans, were also engaged.

Csaba K. Zoltani :
Sorry folks, the Hungarian Army was NOT engaged in the battle for Stalingrad. There is no verifiable proof otherwise, unless one claims that the factory worker thousands of miles away, who manufactured the guns used there by the Germans, were also engaged.

O.K. lets not discuss if the battle for Stalingrad included or not the Hungarian Army

But one thing is sure, the Hungarian Army in the Soviet Union perpetrated terrible crimes. Krisztián Ungváry describes some:
http://nol.hu/ajanlo/ungvary_krisztian_a_magyar_katonak_buneirol_es_a_multtal_valo_szembenezesrol_

So it is really not important, in what battle the Hungarian Army participated. Important facts are, they perpetrated also war crimes.

It is interesting to note: apologists of Orbanistan reply to arguments with caviling, they just prefer nitpicking.

Csaba K. Zoltani
Guest

“So it is really not important, in what battle the Hungarian Army participated. Important facts are, they perpetrated also war crimes. ” maybe so, but it is important that the statements made be true. It is NOT true that the Hungarian army participated in the battle for Stalingrad. They did NOT.

Weiwei
Guest

Is it common for Americans to argue about Iwo Jima on a current-events blog? I guess we should concentrate on the present and the future.

Fidesz is pouring money in lobbying and media both in the US and in Europe. It seems, for example, that Christopher H. Smiths reelection fund was open for, say, 100k (perhaps he was even cheaper than that), but I am sure that Fidesz identified some other congressional prospects as well. While we are reading this blog, Fidesz is working tirelessly to turn the tide using any means necessary: they will not change anything policy-wise and will never concede an inch, but will do anything to prevail in the PR game.

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