New American ambassador in Budapest

I will devote today’s post to U.S.-Hungarian relations. At last the White House appointed a new ambassador to replace Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis, whose tenure as U.S. ambassador to Hungary came to an end in July.

I devoted at least three posts to her less than sterling ambassadorship. In passing I also talked about her predecessor, April H. Foley, who was totally under the spell of Viktor Orbán and János Martonyi and hence had a very bad relationship with the socialist-liberal Hungarian government.  These two as well as their predecessors were so-called political appointees with no prior experience in diplomacy and no prior knowledge of the country in which they served. In September I introduced Colleen Bell, the producer of a very successful daytime soap, as the possible next U.S. ambassador in Budapest. And indeed, it is official: Ms Bell will soon be in Budapest. Right now, I’m certain, she is being prepped by the officials of the State Department. I can well imagine how difficult it must be to cram all the basic information about the past and present of a country one most likely knew nothing about a couple of months ago. I mean that in all sincerity. Of course, she will have a large staff of professionals who will help her along, but it still won’t be easy.

I wonder whether she is fully aware of the depth of the strained relations between Washington and Budapest, which hit a new low two days ago, exactly when Bell was appointed ambassador. The U.S. embassy in Budapest published the following press release:

The United States strongly condemns the shameful event organized by Jobbik, a Hungarian political party identified with ethnic hatred and anti-Semitism, to unveil a bust honoring Nazi ally Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s leader during World War II, at the entrance to the Hungarian Reformed Church at the edge of Szabadsag ter in Budapest on November 3.  Those who organized and participated in the event, including members of Hungary’s Parliament, promoted not only their own intolerance, but also a dramatically negative image of Hungary.  Although the significant number of counter-demonstrators showed there is strong opposition to the organizers’ views, and members of the Hungarian government have expressed disapproval, an event such as this requires swift, decisive, unequivocal condemnation by Hungary’s highest ranking leaders.

Seasoned reporters don’t remember such a strongly worded communiqué from the United States government in the longest time. In this press release the U.S. is calling on Viktor Orbán himself to condemn what happened on Szabadság tér. For the time being we haven’t heard anything from either Viktor Orbán or his deputies Tibor Navracsics and Zsolt Semjén. I am expecting an official silence, which will further strain the relations between the two countries.

U.S. Embassy, Szabadság tér, Budapest Source: commons.wikipedia.org

U.S. Embassy, Szabadság tér, Budapest
Source: commons.wikipedia.org

Of course, we all know that the warning comes straight from the State Department. Perhaps with the change of personnel that occurred after John Kerry took over the post of secretary of state, the State Department decided to be tougher on the Orbán government than it had been in the last three years. Perhaps they began to realize in Washington that the Orbán team doesn’t understand the polite language of diplomacy. One must be plain spoken and hard hitting with the man. As an old acquaintance of Orbán said, the Hungarian prime minister is basically a bellicose coward who when meeting strong resolve and firm resistance on the other side usually retreats. At least temporarily.

Gábor Horváth, one of the editors of Népszabadság, wrote an editorial in today’s paper in which he expressed his sympathy for the incoming ambassador who might not be aware of the difficulties she will face in Budapest. Horváth for a number of years was the paper’s correspondent in Washington, and therefore he is thoroughly familiar with the Washington scene. In his opinion, the millions of dollars the Hungarian government is spending in Washington are a total waste: the Orbán government’s reputation is irreparably ruined due to Viktor Orbán’s policies and behavior. And the government does indeed spend a lot of money lobbying “in Congress, the Executive Branch, think tanks, the investment community, the Jewish community, and the Hungarian-American community.” For details on the lobbying activities of Tamás Fellegi, former minister of national development, see politics.hu’s exclusive by Lili Bayer.

Horváth thinks that the ambassador will have difficulties establishing a cordial relationship with the Hungarian government. I agree with him, with one correction. She will have no difficulty establishing a working relationship with János Martonyi, the minister of foreign affairs, but that will not take her very far. Martonyi will assure her that everything is just fine and dandy and that what she and her staff see is not really so. But all this means nothing because the conduct of foreign policy is not in the hands of Martonyi. The semi-official organ of the government, Magyar Nemzet, only today accused the United States of spying on Viktor Orbán and his government in order to pass on information to the socialist-liberal opposition. So, this is where we stand. I hope the new ambassador will understand the workings of the Hungarian government because otherwise she will be truly lost.

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andy "from the outlands"
Guest

Welcome Ms Ambassador. Get ready for the Hungarian guillotine!

Ovidiu
Guest

“Colleen Bell, the producer of a very successful daytime soap”

Nice but Borat would have been a better choice :

tappanch
Guest

This is how Orban or any other fledgling dictator thinks:

I look pretty compared with Assad, and Assad got away with mass gassing of its own citizens, so what can happen to me?

petofi
Guest

The ego mania of Victor the O knows no bounds: when a piddling, no-account country like Hungary gets such a ‘step-n-fechit’ dressing down as the State Department has delivered, silence is not an option. Only in the mind of a space traveler heftly inured against global realities by some deft Azeri investments and good will. More of a blowfish than a human,
our erstwhile Turul leader self-inflates with importance when tweaking the nose of an American, and (can you believe it?) a German hausfrau. But one of these days, like an
overblown balloon that has been let go…he will fly widly, whistling, into the abyss…

spectator
Guest

Well, the “semi-official organ” has nothing to fear, just as the powers to be in Hungary – nothing happened so far and nothing ever will happen for sure, whatever the wording of the messages indicate. Simply, it has no effect on Orbán.

If anybody than the people of Hungary can make a change – nobody else will.

Csaba K. Zoltani
Guest

Indeed, the new U.S. ambassador to Hungary is facing a challenging task, not the least of which is her requirement to support the anti-Hungarian diatribes that her advisers give give her to publicize, as exemplified by the press release from the embassy in Budapest.

True, Miklos Horthy was a Nazi ally, but he really did not have a choice as exemplified by the refusal of the Allies to accommodate Hungary. By the same measure, FDR was an ally of Stalin, who murdered more Russian opponents and ‘undesirables’ than Hitler murdered Jews.

Unveiling a bust to Horthy, even on church property, made no sense and was a provocation. Who were the real instigators only time will tell. But is it the embassy’s job to comment on activities that occur on private property? What if other countries started to do the same here?

Istvan
Guest

Hungary is not on the radar screen in the USA so Prime Minister Orban has little to worry about the press release. Yes, it is true that the government is spending money to maintain good relations with the Hungarian-American community. I saw it first hand in September at a Hungarian-American event in Norridge Illinois. Clearly a PR effort brought in from New York City to promote the Fidesz agenda and I would say it was effective.

It is very difficult for Hungarian-Americans to publicly be critical of the current situation in Hungary now that it has a market economy or what passes for one at any rate. Many Hungarian-Americans who are second or third generation were raised hearing about the injustice of the Treaty of Trianon and Communist terror so when issues relating the Hungarians in Romania are put front and center by Jobbik or Fidesz some Hungarian-Americans just hear that and don’t want to hear the rest of the agenda. Pressure from the Hungarian-American community of about 1.5 million on the US government over what is happening to democracy in Hungary is near zero except for Jewish Hungarian-Americans.

spectator
Guest

I guess, the question here isn’t “where” it happened, but that it happened at all.
Furthermore, the involvment of the Church means that something went terribly wrong in Hungary once again.

Otherwise I must add, that if something really wrong, it doesn’t matter on who’s property had it happened, does it?

Think of Terike’s encounter with the blind Komondor on a private property – see what I mean?

Kirsten
Guest

Istvan: ” Many Hungarian-Americans who are second or third generation were raised hearing about the injustice of the Treaty of Trianon and Communist terror so when issues relating the Hungarians in Romania are put front and center by Jobbik or Fidesz some Hungarian-Americans just hear that and don’t want to hear the rest of the agenda.”

Weird. These people are living “abroad” also and deliberately. They were for sure raised hearing also about the advantages of democracy and individual freedoms – in the US. Just out of curiosity: Is this focus on “Trianon” just meaning that they support any party that repeats continuously how unjust it was (completely backward looking “programme”), or are there also practical ideas about how to regain these lost territories and what to do with them (which could in a broad sense be considered a programme for the future)?

sos sos sos
Guest

colleen bell will probably fail us and hungary like all three four american ambassadors before.
we could invite her to pine bush to make peace here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/08/nyregion/swastikas-slurs-and-torment-in-towns-schools.html?_r=0

budapest needs a star scholar or diplomat:
1. gene sharp – http://www.aeinstein.org
2. ben cardin – senator
3. kim lane scheppele – princeton

An
Guest

Istvan: “Many Hungarian-Americans who are second or third generation were raised hearing about the injustice of the Treaty of Trianon and Communist terror so when issues relating the Hungarians in Romania are put front and center by Jobbik or Fidesz some Hungarian-Americans just hear that and don’t want to hear the rest of the agenda.”

That was my impression, too. I have yet to see a Hungarian restaurant in the US that doesn’t have the Greater Hungary map somewhere on the walls. I guess that some of these families who left Hungary in the second half of the 40s (escaping the communists) actually, in some way or other, had strong ties to the Horthy system before WW2.

Istvan
Guest
I would say Hungarian Americans that are raised in Hungarian Church related communities have no theory at all on how to restore a greater Hungary. Many of us have visited Hungary both under Kadar and under Orban or under the MSZP governments. Some have been to Romania too, I know there has been fund raising here to support Hungarian churches in Romania. We come back and say there are problems in Hungary but things are better than under communism, maybe we say that because we are expected to by our families. Our Hungarian culture is tied to the church, that is where we went to hungarian school twice a month. It is a very conservative culture and those who don,t like it walk away often both from the church and their culture. My family church on the north side of Chicago which is now closed and moved to the suburbs even had a Hungarian Boy Scout troop. The core of the church came to the US before WWII. Our church supported refugees after 56 and I know some of those 56ers retired to Hungary, but their children are of course in the USA. Most of the 2nd and 3rd generation… Read more »
Guest

Csaba K. Zoltani: “But is it the embassy’s job to comment on activities that occur on private property?”

Is it “anti-Hungarian diatribe” if they do? Is criticism of the Hungarian opposition also anti-Hungarian diatribe?

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

Yesterday I was present in Vienna, when the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) presented a report on “Discrimination and hate crime against Jews in EU Member States: experiences and perceptions of antisemitism”.
http://fra.europa.eu/DVS/DVT/as2013.php
As far as the perception of antisemitism is concerned Hungary is at the top.
At the end of the presentation Dr. Ariel Muzicant, Vice President of the European Jewish Congress spoke and mentioned, that a few days ago he met the Hungarian ambassador in Vienna, who told him, yes there is antisemitism in Hungary, but there is antisemitism everywhere and mentioned Austria and there is no problem in Hungary.
I guess, the “freedom fighters” of Orbanistan, will judge this report as result of an EU conspiracy against Hungary. Gullible followers of Orbán will believe that.

Ms KKA
Guest

Someone should convince Ambassador Bell to add a storyline to one of her soaps about the family violence, hate crimes, and anti-LGBT, Roma, and Jewish sentiments in Hungary. You think I’m kidding? Her parents were responsible for creating the 2 most popular daytime dramas on US television for the past 30 years, and, if you are not familiar with the genre, it broke the barriers on everything from sex before marriage and abortion – back in the dark ages – to interracial marriage and living with AIDS. As far as working it plausibly into an existing story line, no worries – it never has to make sense temporally, legally, logically, or financially! I guarantee you that within 2 days, every single fan would be Googling Hungary for more info…even people who had never heard of it before, let alone gave a damn about what happens to it’s minorities. And, there are no fans like soap fans – they would organize a march on every Hungarian government entity in North America, and all of a sudden, Hungary’s shortcomings would be front page news everywhere!

Max
Guest

The new ambassador can start to produce surreal films in Budapest. Or in Etyekwood, for that matter.

Nyelvtanar
Guest

Eva, I expect you have heard about the new language-related regulation that has been passed? It is designed to kill small language schools so the big boys can carve up the EU TAMOP money.

I’d love to hear your opinion about it
http://index.hu/belfold/2013/11/08/elzarjak_a_levegot_a_nyelviskolak_elol/

Guest

Here’s a link to a new blog on Hungarian politics by a Fidesz supporter who calls himself leto on politics.hu – he tried to come in here with his loonie ides but
was strongly rebuffed quickly.
http://politicsinhungary.wordpress.com/
Depending on your mood you will either laugh hysterically or shed some tears after reading gems like:

Hungary’s “relatively mild” anti-Jewish Laws …
His Serene Highness Miklós Horthy, Regent of Hungary
Demonizing Governor Horthy is a “left liberal” agenda. The counter-demonstration was organized by them, for example ex-Socialist prime minister Bajnai’s Együtt-PM party activists were also among of the small , noisy group of counter-demonstrators.

I warned you!

PS:
The Ant-Jewish sentiments of this person are really something to watch …

letomuaddib
Guest

Thanks a lot for advertising my blog, wolfi.

PS: Glad to hear I was “strongly rebuffed quickly” here. I certainly wouldn’t want to be accepted among extremists such as you or Gyurcsány advocates such as Eva S. Balogh.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

letomuaddib :
Thanks a lot for advertising my blog, wolfi.
PS: Glad to hear I was “strongly rebuffed quickly” here. I certainly wouldn’t want to be accepted among extremists such as you or Gyurcsány advocates such as Eva S. Balogh.

Communists, who joined the Orbán maffia, are of course for leto mainstream, moderate Hungarians..
Eva S. Balogh, who participated in the 1956 revolution is in the eyes of gullible followers of Orbán an extremist. To be called an extremist by fellows like him is a badge of honor.

An
Guest

@Istvan: I have fairly recently arrived to the US from Hungary (well, 8 years ago) and honestly, those Hungarian communities you describe, always struck me as strange and scary. The best way I can describe it if feels like as if time has stopped for these communities… they preserve a Hungarian culture they remember as it was at the time they left (I think that’s natural for all immigrant communities). To me it felt like I was time-travelling. My husband (American) used to go to a local Hungarian church to learn the language…and although I learned some wonderful Hungarian pastry recipes that most Hungarians in Hungary don’t bother making from scratch like that anymore, I was happy when we stopped going there. Not my world. Other than speaking Hungarian, I had very little in common with anybody there. And most of those Hungarians I know who came to the US recently, feel the same way.

Guest

Just a quick note:

leto the hardcore Fidesz supporter links to pol.hu and the next link is … Hungarianambience … Surprise, surprise!

I hadn’t thought however that this creature (which ends its regular comments with something like: You extremely disgusting Jewish libturd postcommie piece of crap!) would reappear here.

I wonder if the Fidesz honchos are really happy about this type of advertising …

Paul
Guest

This (Leto) Fidesz supporter has a moderation policy on his blog: “ No obscenity will be tolerated. No anti-Hungarian trolling will be tolerated.  Comments targeted against my person, against Fidesz or Mr. Orbán will be tolerated as long as they don’t radiate hatred”. Coming from a person who is supporting throwing molotov cocktails towards the gay parade…labeling every person who is critical a lib turd jewish, an anti-Hungarian Jewish piece of stinking shit..well sigh….no need to say anymore. Very sad actually.

spectator
Guest

Paul :
Coming from a person who is supporting throwing molotov cocktails towards the gay parade…

You know, this is really strange.
Some referring to Leto as “he”, while the name suggesting a totally different story.
One would think, that it would induce a more tolerant approach, while some says the denial makes it all the worse, often turns the person aggressive, even directly violent – instead of “coming out” and make peace with him/herself and the World.
A sad story, indeed.

You can read of the story of Leto here:
http://www.greekmythology.com/Myths/The_Myths/Zeus_s_Lovers/Leto/leto.html

Istvan
Guest

Re: An I totally understand your position. There is a time machine quality to the community I was raised in. Maybe that is why the Jobbik has an appeal to some, after all they do promote folk dancing which I too was required to do as a child when I would have rather been listening to the Rolling Stones.

Guest

@Spectator:

leto muaddib is a fictional prince, the “hero” of the famous Science Fiction book series Dune by Frank Herbert.

PS and totally OT:

I should know since as a collector of SF for more than 50 years I have a copy of the SF-magazine “Analog” (formerly Astounding) where the book was originally published as a serial …

spectator
Guest

wolfi :
@Spectator:
leto muaddib is a fictional prince, the “hero” of the famous Science Fiction book series Dune by Frank Herbert.
PS and totally OT:
I should know since as a collector of SF for more than 50 years I have a copy of the SF-magazine “Analog” (formerly Astounding) where the book was originally published as a serial …

Thanks Wolfi, it helps a lot!
Apparently grew up too soon – I nearly envious, you know 😉

letomuaddib
Guest

wolfi :
@Spectator:
leto muaddib is a fictional prince, the “hero” of the famous Science Fiction book series Dune by Frank Herbert.

I really don’t want to spend much time here but I’d better correct this:
In fact there wasn’t such a hero called “Leto Muad’dib” in Frank Herbert’s classic SF saga. Leto Atreides was a duke of the Atreides house and his wife was Jessica. Their son, Paul Atreides, was given the name Muad’dib by the Fremen later. Paul’s son was named also Leto, that is he was called Leto Atreides. So I kinda “invented” the name Leto Muad’dib.

Istvan
Guest
Yes it’s true there was at least one member of our church who had been Waffen SS 1st Hungarian captured by US forces in 1945 in Austria. I didn’t understand who or what he was until years after he died and I still know his children who are very nice people. Those Hungarian children of the church of who served in Vietnam were treated as freedom fighters upon our return because we were fighting godless communists. I like many others from that conflict suffered from a form of post traumatic stress symdrome and I was totally confused by my entire situation which was not normal. Just like the current US Secretary of State Kerry I came to oppose the Vietnam war. At one point my own father slapped my face in classic Hungarian fashion grasping my chin yelling at me that I should be proud of what the US army did in the war and not ashamed. It took time to heal all of those wounds. I pray at this point in my life in my late 60s issues like the rise of the Jobbik do not create new schisms in what is left of our community. Several of people… Read more »
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