American-Hungarian relations and John McCain’s visit to Budapest

It was a week ago that Gergely Gulyás, the young rising star of Fidesz, attacked the American ambassador designate, Colleen Bell, accusing her of bias against the current Hungarian government. At that time I pointed out that without Viktor Orbán’s approval or perhaps even instructions the open letter Gulyás published could never have appeared. Now, in light of the recent visit of Senator John McCain to the Hungarian capital, a fuller picture emerges about the circumstances of that letter.

The public learned only on January 30 that Senator McCain will be spending a day in Budapest. He came not alone but as part of a nine-member bipartisan delegation consisting of three senators and six congressmen.

Surely, the Hungarian government must have known for some time about the impending visit of the American delegation. I venture to say that they knew about it before January 22 when Gulyás published his outrageous letter accusing Colleen Bell of partiality toward the opposition. Those Fidesz politicians who watched the video of the Senate hearing realized that the Republican McCain had a rather low opinion of the ambassadors Barack Obama proposed and may therefore have thought that an attack on Bell would yield brownie points with McCain. If that was the case, it was based on a total misunderstanding of American politics. Sure, at home McCain will show his dissatisfaction with Obama’s choices, but in Budapest he will not cozy up to Viktor Orbán just because he thinks that Bell knows nothing about Hungary or diplomacy. He will follow American foreign policy toward Hungary, which is currently very critical.

A day before the visit of the American delegation János Lázár continued the attacks on the United States in connection with the electronic listening devices that were most likely used on Hungarian citizens as well. Here they found themselves in a strong position. All of Europe is up in arms over the facts disclosed by Edward Snowden, and the decision was most likely made at the highest level that this topic could be used effectively against McCain during the talks. Another miscalculation. McCain didn’t apologize but instead emphasized that surveillance is necessary in the face of terrorism. They will be more selective in the application of these devices in the future. Period.

Meanwhile the parliamentary committee investigating American surveillance held its first meeting on January 30.  In addition to the official members, János Lázár, head of the prime minister’s office, Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior, and János Martonyi, foreign minister, were also present. By the way, the so-called “moderate” János Martonyi, the favorite of former American ambassadors, also condemned Colleen Bell’s testimony as if he were not aware that Bell didn’t express her own opinions but simply presented the official position of the United States government. Pintér promptly made the proceedings secret while Martonyi announced that the topic of surveillance will “remain on the agenda,” adding that “it will take a long time to repair the trust that is so important between allies and friends.” János Lázár announced that the surveillance affair “may influence in a significant way the relations between the USA and Hungary.” All in all, the Orbán government was ready to receive John McCain in full armor. Lázár also said at the press conference after the meeting that the new ambassador “will have to appear before the parliamentary committee,” something that will surely not happen. Máté Kocsis, the youthful chairman of the committee, went even further. He wants to see Edward Snowden himself in Budapest to answer the committee’s questions.

It was only on Thursday that McCain’s impending visit leaked out. The Hungarian media was convinced that the chief topic of the conversations would be Ukraine. The newspapers recalled that McCain had visited that country in December, but they really couldn’t give any reasonable explanation why Hungary would be that important in connection with the crisis in Ukraine other than having about 200,000 co-nationals living in its subcarpathian region who at the moment don’t seem to be threatened. What we learned afterwards was that Viktor Orbán “informed the American delegation of the V4 [Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Hungary] discussion on the situation in Kiev.” So, Ukraine was not at the center of the discussions.

McCain

So, let’s see what McCain himself had to say about his time in Budapest. Besides the usual round of praise for the faithful ally, he stated that “we understand the concerns about the state of democracy in Hungary that have been raised by people both inside and outside of this country. Some of these concerns are very serious…. The United States and the rest of the free world have an abiding interest in Hungary’s continued development as a strong, inclusive, and tolerant democracy, with a free market economy, an independent judiciary, and a free media.” During the conversations “we also expressed our hope that Hungary will address its energy security needs in ways that further diversify Europe’s supply of energy.” To translate all that into plain English, McCain criticized the state of democracy in Orbán’s Hungary and also must have shared his concerns over Hungary’s sole reliance on Russian energy sources, especially now that Orbán seems to have committed Hungary to Russia in building two new reactors on borrowed money.

From other Hungarian sources it became clear that the forthcoming election was also discussed. McCain must have expressed his worries about the fairness of the election because apparently Orbán readily agreed to have international observers. McCain was also worried about the lack of transparency in the negotiations with the Russians concerning Paks. And at this point I’m not at all sure that McCain knew that all the financial details of the Paks negotiations have already been made secret for years to come.

McCain and the others present were familiar with the memorial to be erected on Szabadság tér. They even talked about anti-Semitism in Hungary. The Democratic congressman from Florida, Ted Deutch, told Orbán that he must be sure that the monument will not be used “to whitewash history.” Apparently, Viktor Orbán gave his word, but unfortunately we know how much his word is worth.

The American delegation met Attila Mesterházy, Gordon Bajnai, Benedek Jávor, and Gábor Fodor. I assume that Ferenc Gyurcsány was not present because in 2007-2008 he was accused by the Americans, with help from Viktor Orbán who was then in his anti-Russian mode, of being a great friend of Vladimir Putin.

Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hírlap, the government’s mouthpieces, have for some time been publishing articles with a sharp anti-American edge, but since the Orbán government decided to take on the American government through an attack on Colleen Bell the articles and opinion pieces written in these two organs have become outright vicious.

Magyar Nemzet after the official meeting  made a flippant remark about “the former presidential candidate who suddenly had an attack of worry for Hungarian democracy.” István Lovas, the paper’s correspondent in Brussels, wrote an opinion piece in today’s Magyar Nemzet entitled “At last,” in which he expressed his delight that at last Hungary is hitting back: “Goodbye servitude, goodbye hopelessness.” Magyar Hírlap just today published four articles on American-Hungarian relations where they talk about John McCain as “a somebody called McCain, … a loud American” who lectures Hungarians about democracy and who “worries himself sick” over undemocratic Hungary. Hungarians are bored with all that talk about checks and balances they keep repeating. A few weeks ago an article in Magyar Hírlap described the oft repeated phrase “checks and balances” as American whining (nyivákolás).

I’m pretty sure that this fierce anti-American rhetoric is popular in certain circles in Hungary, but I have to believe that it will have very adverse effects on both the diplomatic and the economic relations between Hungary and the United States.

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gdfxx
Guest

“János Lázár announced that the surveillance affair “may influence in a significant way the relations between the USA and Hungary.””

I am sure there is panic in the State Department.

petofi
Guest

When you attack the most powerful nation in the world, you can be sure it is at the behest of the second most powerful nation…And the Fideszniks yell, “An end to servitude!”

How dumb. How shameless.

(By the way, the good people of Budapest can expect palatial, Russian, residences to go up
on Margit Sziget shortly…)

Accounts Money Hiding
Guest
Accounts Money Hiding

McCain needs some forensic accountants on this mission.

Mr. Paul
Guest
I think you are underestimating the surveillance issue it is not going to go away and it cannot be brushed aside so easily. Right now there are hundreds of thousands of secret US documents in possession of various journalists, which will continue to leak out day by day. From previously released documents we already know that the purpose of the surveillance was not to combat terrorism. Unless of course one considers Angela Merkel who was personally targeted, a terrorist. Since the wiretap against Merkel did not serve any counter-terrorist purpose we already know there were other factors at play like diplomatic espionage. It is a bit easier to negotiate various deals and contact diplomacy when you are aware of not only your own position but of those of the other side as well. Snowden already implied as much in one of his statements when he said the main purpose of the program was “industrial espionage and diplomatic manipulation”. This is the main reason why the US relations are getting worse, not with Hungary but with every country basicly. Now during election time there is an added element to this. An average citizen who learns about the mass spying considers itself… Read more »
petofi
Guest

This is how Hungarians understand ‘checks and balances’:
–checks = cheques
–balances = how you talk out of both sides of your mouth equally

gdfxx
Guest

“I think you are underestimating the surveillance issue it is not going to go away and it cannot be brushed aside so easily. Right now there are hundreds of thousands of secret US documents in possession of various journalists, which will continue to leak out day by day. From previously released documents we already know that the purpose of the surveillance was not to combat terrorism.”

I wonder how “we” know that.

Anyway, all countries are spying on all others. They just don’t have a Snowden (yet).

My position on this is, that if some terrorist calls someone in the US from Pakistan or Waziristan or some similar place (even from Germany, where some of the 9/11 terrorists came from), the proper authorities should be able to notice.

Ovidiu
Guest

@Eva..”after the official meeting made a flippant remark ..”

I do not fully understand that.Either :

–Orban has made some painful (for him) concessions during the meeting with McCain and now the Fidesz-media tries to cover the humiliating (for Orban) event with “proud and sovereign” anti-american rethetoric.If so, we will find it in the following days/week when Orban announces some change of plans, and hopes that nobody will connect the dots.

–Nothing came out of it and this propaganda merely prepares the Hungarian public for a predictible worsening of the US-HU relations.It induces the “right” attitude.After all it is not an easy to take attitude in a former communist country where one expects that many believe that the relation with US is quite an asset.

but either way it does not look good, this kind of propaganda as long range consequences

Mr. Paul
Guest

petofi :
When you attack the most powerful nation in the world, you can be sure it is at the behest of the second most powerful nation…

I am not sure it is on the behest of the Russians but It is safe to assume that the Russians are not so unhappy about it. Remember that after the China-US relations (when the US made outright threats against China to get to Snowden) it was the Russian-US relations that were damaged the most as a result of the Snowden case.

The US famously asked that Snowden be extradited from Russia even though they do not have a treaty that would allow for it. There were months of tensions because of this and Snowden is still there, still outside of US influence. Then there was the bizarre case when US authorites wanted to hunt down Snowden and ordered some EU states to ground the plane of the Bolivian president. Which resulted in a huge diplomatic fallout even though Snowden was never even on the plane. It was rumoured that the Russians made sure that the US thought Snowden was on the plane and they fell for it.

hungry hungary
Guest

Mr. Paul is unfortunately so bitter about America.

We should ask admiral orban to declare war on us/USA

Mr. Paul has got very little feelings lost on the starving poor of Hungary.

Mr. Paul
Guest

Just don’t think that America is not divided over this issue. As in many cases there are two Americas here. About 35-40% consider Edward Snowden a hero and the activities he unmasked, very serious. I am not bitter about them at all in fact I agree with them.

gdfxx
Guest
gdfxx
Guest

Mr. Paul :
Just don’t think that America is not divided over this issue. As in many cases there are two Americas here. About 35-40% consider Edward Snowden a hero and the activities he unmasked, very serious. I am not bitter about them at all in fact I agree with them.

There is one America here. The law rules here, not the mob. And everything the NSA did was done under the supervision of Congress and the Judiciary.

I was in New York on September 11, 2001. Those who experienced that do not wish it on anyone again.

Edward Snowden is a spy, a traitor. Otherwise he would not hide with the KGB with his country’s secrets.

Kormos
Guest

petofi :
This is how Hungarians understand ‘checks and balances’:
–checks = cheques

–balances = how you talk out of both sides of your mouth equally

Finally Hungarians learned this and do it just as well as you do.

Peter Steiner
Guest
gdfxx: I believe that you are rather naive about the ‘robust oversight’ of the judiciary (FISA) and Congress over the US survaillance programs. This supposed oversight is carried out by cheerleaders who rubberstamp everything the NSA etc. does. If you would follow even the mainstream media about the issue, you would know the details. The reason Snowden hides in Russia is that currently Russia is the only country which dares to defy the US and he does not want to end up in a supermax for life for being a whistleblower, especially that in any US legal procedure he could not introduce any exculpatory evidence for his defense (but this is a legal matter, so you are forgiven for not being aware of this) and having been formally a subcontractor he is not covered by whistleblower statutes. I think the US does deserve strong criticism for collecting (as we speak and among others) the phone conversations for hundreds of millions of average people. This is not about Merkel’s cell phone, but about the calls and data of plain Mari néni-s all over the world (including Hungary) effectively by the billions. The information on their lives are collected all over the… Read more »
gdfxx
Guest

Peter Steiner:

I am not going to debate this issue here, it does not belong here. But I would like to point out some of my objections to your long posting:

1. The NSA does not collect the contents of phone conversations, but the fact that they happen (at least not for American citizens). This allows them to to find out when a terrorist/suspect from overseas calls someone in the US, and potentially discover domestic terrorists.
2. Snowden is not a whistle-blower. Whistle-blowers don’t do it to The Guardian. There are laws and procedures for doing that, as President Obama mentioned it in his press conference.
3. Although I am not a lawyer, I am not an idiot. I am sure that he could have found someone to whistle-blow to in the US Government, someone who is not The Guardian or the Chinese or Russian Government.
4. I wonder how many Congressional or Senate Intelligence Committee closed meetings or FISA court sessions you attended to make you able to label them NSA cheerleaders and rubber-stamps.

And I could go on, but I consider my participation in this topic closed here.

P. Steiner
Guest
gdfxx: with all due respect, what you write here is simply not true. It is one thing to defend a country, which is absolutely OK and nobody will condemn a patriot, but quite another to simply ignore the facts — as comprehensively detailed by The Guardian, even the NY Times and WP and many foreign publications. I will not include the links to the articles which refute your answers, but I can only assume you have not followed this fascinating story. But let me point out that even re point 1 you yourself admit that that the call data/meta data restriction applies only to US citizens — so for 7 billion non-US citizen foreigners (including average joes in Hungary, Germany or Uganda) there is no restriction at all, their conversations, internet usage etc. are being recorded and stored. This does affect Hungarians, too, even if the Orban Government’s reactions are ridiculous. Maybe readers here are not familiar with the data, so I only mention that the special and secret FISA review court established to provide judicial oversight in its 33 years of existence denied in aggregate 11 (ie. eleven) out of more than 34,000 surveillance requests. If this is not… Read more »
Ms KKA
Guest

I couldn’t have said it better myself, Peter. What a treat it would be to live in the country that gdfxx apparently believes the US to be…I have known for a very long time that my government does not operate in my best interests.And, to the best of my knowledge, no whistleblower here has ever emerged unscathed from their brave actions – just ask Karen Silkwood’s survivors.

true freedom
Guest

This blog is advocating true freedom all over the world.
America is defending not only the freedom of Americans, but the oppressed of the world.

The deceit of the handlers of edward snowden works well on confused defenders of enemies of freedom.

Let us get sober. The post soviet putinism is not the defender of freedom.
Their protegee hungarian regime is a sad display of brute oppression.

Who wants to advocate the case of putin, orban, khamenei, jobbik, muslim brotherhood, al qaeda, golden dawn, hamas????

An
Guest

@P.Steiner: “But let me point out that even re point 1 you yourself admit that that the call data/meta data restriction applies only to US citizens — so for 7 billion non-US citizen foreigners (including average joes in Hungary, Germany or Uganda) there is no restriction at all, their conversations, internet usage etc. are being recorded and stored.”

Yes, and the same is done by foreign intelligence services of ALL countries. Countries spy on each other, with the best technology they have available. I am not aware of any country that grants the same civil rights protection to foreign nationals as to their own citizens. So yes, Hungarians are being spied on by the US, by the Russians, and by a bunch of other foreign intelligence services.

Jano
Guest

An: So that’s making it ok? I can understand that our American friend with the nauseating sentiment above you have watched too many Hollywood movies but why do I have to trust the US government agencies and their employees?

Nor do I trust the Russians which is the reason why I don’t want my country as a Russian satellite. But now your saying the US has the right to be just as bad. With all due respect as a Hungarian citizen-US resident, no.

gdfxx
Guest

“Maybe readers here are not familiar with the data, so I only mention that the special and secret FISA review court established to provide judicial oversight in its 33 years of existence denied in aggregate 11 (ie. eleven) out of more than 34,000 surveillance requests. If this is not a rubber stamp machinery than I do not know what is.”

This is misinformation that I cannot tolerate. Most approvals were given after numerous back and forths between the court and the requester. Please do not reply to this because I will ignore it.

Jano
Guest

gdfxx: Well, unfortunately I cannot tolerate misinformation either of which you provided plenty in your initial comment. The most blatant example is that there would have been a proper whistleblowing procedure for Snowden. I’m sure that if you were as informed as confident about the topic then you would have certainly noticed that little element of the story according to which those procedures are for government employees. Mr. Snowden being merely an employee of a government contractor did not fall under whistleblower-protection.

Mr. Steiner is right, it did work like a rubber-stamp machinery, with only a few exceptions, while some of the NSA practices were clearly shown by the leaked documents to be absolutely clandestine with little or no oversight.

“Please do not reply to this because I will ignore it.” – Please do so, I personally haven’t try to force close a discussion like this since middle school, but to each their own I guess.

An
Guest

@Jano: Who said that makes it OK? I think that spying on foreign countries is a fact of life… maybe we can come up with an international agreement to stop doing that; it would be great. We should also end all wars while we are at it, I think.

As for governments spying on their own citizens, even for security reasons.. now that’s not ok in my book. The American people have every right to be upset and demand better insight and oversight in the works of the intelligence and anti-terrorism agencies.

Paul
Guest

A little OT, but when comparing the US to Russia as a ‘friend’, you could do a lot worse than listen to this first:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03sb0ln

This is the country, and these are the people, Orbán is so eager to get into bed with (in the sense of Little Red Riding Hood getting into bed with her ‘grandmother’…).

(I think this broadcast is available worldwide – my apologies if it isn’t.)

Mutt
Guest
The low denial rate in the FISA courts (foreign surveillance) or even lower in the domestic courts is because most of the request don’t even reach the judges for formal reason. They are rejected before getting to the decision phase. The other reason is essentially the judges cannot verify the intelligence. Im curios how the Peter and other geniuses propose the process should be? Another shadow FBI that should run a parallel investigation to see if the request is justified? And a 3rd agency would perhaps verify the work of the this agency? By the way these numbers are related to surveillance that required warrants. These have nothing to do with warrantless foreign or domestic wiretapping after 9/11. We didn’t need Snowden to expose it – it was well known. He just exposed some details of it. Even though everybody does it, it is again the evil United States. A smart 14 year old can snoop and decode public wireless traffic. If Frau Merkel used a store bought phone to tell Herr Merkel to by knoblauch and KY jelly in the supermarket then she should not be surprised … We only can argue if there is enough oversight of the… Read more »
spectator
Guest

I’ll tell Frau Merkel next time to restrain herself carrying explosives around, she well surely listen to reason.
You certainly joking, are you, that she’s being evesdropped is her fault by using off the shelve telephone? Don’t you think, that wiretapping her communication is just wrong?
Or are we’re back again in the cold war, or it never really ended?

One mor thing: as I know the very same measures were already implemented way before the Boston-bombs went up. How about those legs then, which already has been blown off?
Why do you think, next time it help to prevent it happens, even if then did not at the first place?

I don’t want to say, that reasonable surveillance is wrong by default, far from it.
However, I yet to see an independent survey on just how high percentage yield some result, the success rate, in short.
And I sorry to say, that this will not save your children for sure, unfortunately.

Mutt
Guest

I’m sure the CIA has a fishing station around government buildings everywhere. So does everybody else, including the Germans. Don’t be silly … Even just figuring out who is who’s confidant is priceless. The real nugget of course would be one of the prime minister’s aids downloading child porn …

About the Boston bombing not being prevented … But how many was prevented? This isn’t going anywhere, right? It all comes down to a tradeoff between personal privacy and preventing crimes. 13 years after 9/11 part of the public seems to be more sensitive again to the issue of privacy.

The problem around the mass surveillance programs is rather the use and retention of the data. Simply put what analyst can run a 2nd or 3rd tier search in the collected communications and with what safety and accounting measures (2nd tier is Joe’s friends 3rd tier is Joe’s friend’s friends).

Let’s write to our congressman … but for now get back to Planet Hungary.

Boba Fett
Guest
Being only a Hungarian citizen, but having lived in a police state (even if it was a goulash-kind), the uncritical support of a total surveillance state by supposed liberals is disappointing to say the least. Although I have long noted that for Americans to criticize their government is often deemed tantamount to being un-American or not patriotic enough (especially in this case), so while there is of course legal room to criticize the government in the US, people do not dare to or want to as they would hate to be seen as not patriotic enough (which is the lowliest kind of person in the US). Of course, this is not a rational, mechanical choice, but more like a long psychological process at the end of which the person learns to love Big Brother. It is one thing to “spy” on foreigners (foreign decision-makers) and another to record, as technology is now available for that, to record the whereabouts, conversations, internet messages, daily habits, circle of friends and acquaintances and much more — for billions of people, as if there is any danger to the US coming from rural Szabolcs county, for example. I am a bit flabbergasted that people… Read more »
Mutt
Guest

@boba Sorry to disappoint, but as I said, we are not brainwashed liberals (omg), we just simply think these surveillance programs are tradeoffs for now we can live with. No fear, no Big Brother … nada.

An
Guest
Boba Fett: “here is of course legal room to criticize the government in the US, people do not dare to or want to as they would hate to be seen as not patriotic enough ” This is simply not true. There are a lot of people in the US who criticize the program. “It is one thing to “spy” on foreigners (foreign decision-makers) and another to record, as technology is now available for that, to record the whereabouts, conversations, internet messages, daily habits, circle of friends and acquaintances and much more — for billions of people, as if there is any danger to the US coming from rural Szabolcs county, for example.” It is a huge exaggeration that the US would record every living soul’s phone record in the world, just because they can. There are two things. One, is that by tracking phone calls, emails, etc. of persons of interest, they do record some phone calls of “average Joes” who have nothing to do with terrorists or other targeted individuals. Now, I can see that as worrying, but it doesn’t mean that the NSA is set out to record and listen in everybody’s phone calls and emails. The second:… Read more »
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