American-Hungarian relations: Chargé d’affaires Andre Goodfriend

Although it was almost a year ago that Colleen Bell was nominated to be ambassador to Hungary, her confirmation is still in limbo, along with that of thirty others. The American chargé d’affaires in Budapest, Andre M. Goodfriend, is therefore serving as the head of the mission.

Mr. Goodfriend joined the State Department in 1987; he served in Tel Aviv, New Delhi, and Moscow before being posted to Budapest in August 2013. As an overachieving undergraduate he got degrees in philosophy, classical Greek, French, and radio-television at the University of Arizona and subsequently received an M.A. in communication from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He has studied Hungarian, Hebrew, French, Russian, Greek (both classical and modern), Spanish, Hindi, Arabic, and Yiddish. Quite an accomplishment. In any case, he has ample experience to handle the affairs of the Budapest embassy at this very difficult juncture of U.S.-Hungarian relations.

Shortly after his arrival in Budapest he decided to start a bilingual blog, Civil Voices. Every article appears in both English and Hungarian. The number of comments is modest but growing. Some are in English, others in Hungarian. Almost all of his posts are relevant to Hungary, even those that deal with specifically American topics. For instance, Mr. Goodfriend’s very first post, about the history of racial discrimination, was written on Martin Luther King Day. Yet the post begins with a commemoration of the 69th anniversary of the Soviet Army’s liberation of the Budapest ghetto and the 68th anniversary of Hungary’s expulsion of its German-speaking citizens. The message was that we must face our past and learn from it.

The most recent blog, written on August 5, is entitled “Love Me, I’m a Liberal/Szeress engem, liberális vagyok.” In it, the American chargé talks about the need to define terms as well as the need for ongoing discussion and engagement to clarify terms. He is asking for some clarification of what Prime Minister Viktor Orbán means by “liberal” and conversely “illiberal.”

Andre M. Goodfriend / Magyar Nemzet

Andre M. Goodfriend / Magyar Nemzet

The United States government is obviously trying to engage the Hungarian citizenry even if they can’t engage the Hungarian government. Of course, I have no idea how close and/or frequent contacts are between the U.S. Embassy and the Hungarian foreign ministry but I doubt that they are at all frequent. Don’t forget that the ministry is in total turmoil. Old hands have been removed; new, inexperienced people are taking over. The present minister is half way out the door on his way to Brussels while Péter Szijjártó, Orbán’s man who was chosen for the task of catching “the Eastern wind,”  is not at all interested in either the European Union or the United States. Instead, he has been madly looking for opportunities in the Middle East and Central Asia.

In addition to the blog that reaches few people, Mr. Goodfriend, seemingly at the behest of the State Department, approached Magyar Nemzet asking for an interview. At least this is what one gathers from the first couple of interview questions that appeared in the August 5 issue of the paper. The English original can be found here. The journalist’s last name is Zord, which in Hungarian means grim, morose, sullen, and I must say that he didn’t belie his name. It would be wonderful if the journalists of Magyar Nemzet were as zealous as Zord was when they question Viktor Orbán or any other members of the government.

The interview ran under the headline “The American dream still exists.” The bold-faced introduction, however, was an indictment: “America is putting its allies under surveillance, torturing POWs, and using police state methods” and yet it is worried “about Hungarian democracy of all things.” Magyar Nemzet was less interested in what the American chargé had to say than what its journalist accused the United States of.

Without going into the details of this fairly long interview, let me make a few observations. The journalist conducting the interview was surprisingly inarticulate. Moreover, at times he showed that he is not familiar with basic facts. For example, he talked about the “American ambassador to Jerusalem” when we know that the U.S. Embassy, along with 81 others, is located in Tel Aviv because of the controversy over the status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. When it came to concepts like liberalism, liberal democracy, and globalism, he showed that he knew little more about these subjects than what he read in Orbán’s speech. Therefore, Andre Goodfriend had a relatively easy time with him, and I must say he handled the interview very well.

In fact, the journalist, who is after all a Hungarian–born and educated–could learn Hungarian history and even some Hungarian etymology from Mr. Goodfriend. After Zord extolled the virtues of nation states, Goodfriend rightly pointed out that the golden age of modern Hungary was between 1867 and 1910 when the country was part of a large and ethnically diverse empire. Hungary not only prospered economically but excelled “in the sciences, the arts, music, literature, architecture, etc.” He then drew a parallel between the empire of this golden age and the European Union. Moreover, he suggested that perhaps 2004, the year Hungary joined the Union, is a much more important date for the future of the country than Orbán’s choice for the dawn of a new era, the 2008 financial crisis.

While discussing the NGOs, whom the interviewer described as paid political activists and enforcers of foreign interests, Goodfriend reminded him that Viktor Orbán and his organization, Fidesz, received plenty of financial support for the very purpose of loosening the grip of the communist regime on the country in 1988 and 1989. George Soros naturally could not be left out of any discussion on NGOs, although lately Soros’s contributions are not substantial. The interviewer accused Soros’s “network” of conspiracy against the right-wing government. This accusation was artfully countered by Goodfriend who gave a lecture on the etymology of the Hungarian word “összeesküvés,” which implies a secret plan to which the members of the conspiracy swear. By contrast, financial assistance from either the Soros Foundation or the Norway Grants is given in a transparent fashion.

All in all, I think, Andre Goodfriend did very well, and I’m sure that the State Department is satisfied with this interview.

As a footnote I might add that I have been noticing in the last few days certain signs of backpedaling by the right-wing media. Even Zsolt Bayer emphasized in his column today that the world should not take Orbán’s speech so seriously because after all it was only delivered AT A SUMMER CAMP, in all caps! Moreover, what is important is not so much liberalism, which he equates with neoliberalism, but “the rule of law.” It is the rule of law that we must defend and that will be defended in Hungary under the governance of Viktor Orbán.

It seems to me that the vehement reaction, especially in the United States, to Orbán’s ideas on the illiberal state took him and the people around him by surprise. Viktor Orbán and his closest associates have been silent on the subject, but apparently some of his advisers and Fidesz members of the European Parliament admitted to Ildikó Csuhaj, the usually very well-informed journalist of Népszabadság, that they consider Orbán’s fiercely anti-American attitudes counterproductive and apparently recommended that he reconsider his policies toward the United States. I understand that the new Hungarian ambassador will be Réka Szemerkényi, who apparently has good connections in Washington, although I doubt that she will be able to warm up her old friendships with American diplomats and politicians under the present circumstances.

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Hungary
Guest

Thank you for this post. I have read the full English text of Mr. Goodfriend’s interview in Magyar Nemzet. Indeed he handled himself extremely well. Yes, one wishes the same openness existed between the press and Hungarian government officials.

buddy
Guest

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve had the good fortune to meet Mr. Goodfriend on a few occasions. My impressions of him are the following: competent, smart, modest, kind, warm, generous. It’s too bad they can’t just make him ambassador, but things do not work that way, I suppose.

gdfxx
Guest

Buddy:” It’s too bad they can’t just make him ambassador, but things do not work that way, I suppose.”

As opposed to Mrs. Bell, Mr. Goodfriend did not raise $2.2 million for President Obama’s election campaign (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/09/13/us/politics/obamas-top-fund-raisers.html). This is nowadays the most important qualification for being named to be the ambassador in a desirable place like Budapest.

steve397
Guest

I feel certain that Mr. Goodfriend will be a valuable advisor and collegue of Ms Bell, so his common sense approach and intelligence will not be wasted.

M. Andre Goodfriend
Guest
Thanks for the very complimentary post and comments. It is true that I’ve been trying to engage with the public via a range of media since I arrived. Last September, nearly a year ago, after my first month in Budapest, our Public Affairs section held an “end of the ‘uborka saizon’ (‘cucumber season’ signifying the summer when there is rarely any political news of significance) reception to introduce me and our new press attache. I pledged then that our doors were open for discussion whether about U.S. policy or the events of the day. In fact, we’re trying to open all our doors, whether through media interviews, social media engagement, or just going out and meeting people. There was another radio interview broadcast yesterday (http://goo.gl/V5Aht5) which was headlined that I like to travel around Budapest incognito talking to people. But in my comments at our “uborka/cucumber saizon” gathering, I jokingly commented that perhaps the cucumber is a good symbol for how the media should approach us and others. Cucumbers are like facts. Cucumbers can be nondescript and seemingly insignificant; they can be sliced or diced, or raw, or peeled, or spiced up, and prepared in a wide variety of ways.… Read more »
Guest

That’s really a pleasant surprise – in the middle of the Saure-Gurken-Zeit!

Thank you very much, Mr. Goodfriend, for your kind words. I sincerely hope that Hungary will listen to them.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

Indeed, it was a pleasure to read, and as we say: bien envoyé.

And though I don’t know the amount of editing the interview was submitted to, I find interesting that this final version was published in the Nemzet – for as Dr Balog pointed out, the journalist’s line of questioning was clearly outwitted.

Maybe, maybe there is still room for debate within the Hungarian right.

ambator
Guest

What incognito?
I met Mr. Goodfriend first at an opera performance at the Great Synagogue a year ago and met him lately again in front of the synagogue at a demonstration. In between I met him, or saw him, at the szabadsag teri demonstration numerous times and we talked, and he considered his presence there as part of his daily rutine. Far from incognito, he is actually almost always on the scene when somethig interesting happens and most interestingly, available for a chat, or even an argument at any time. I consider him a welcome addition to the city, an indispensible appendage now and I always feel some reassurance and confirmation finding him at an event. He also told me that when an event is worthy of it, he is reporting about it directly on his phone, pictures and text and all.
All courtesies aside, I think he is a splendid guy and hope he stays as long as possible, we really and truely need him.

petofi
Guest

“…that he reconsider his policies toward the United States…”

Oh, really! What nonsense.
Orban talks for effect: the bigger the splash, the more he likes it (and his mentally-challenged Hungaricoes). “All sound and fury signifying nothing.” The performance is for Moscow–that’s who he must please.

It’s time to treat the disease and not the symptoms–the west should call the country/Orban to account with policies and actions to match.

Member
Thank you Eva for bringing the article with Mr. Goodfriend to the attention of all. As you know I try not to go on sites like MN, MH, Kuruc, etc. singly because “you vote with your feet” and in cyber world I guess “you vote with your click”. I am not saying that I do not read anything from those sites, I just try to limit the number of my visits. It is great to read that Mr. Goodfriend is able to engage the current Hungarian government, and also that interviews conducted with him, likely intact made it to one of the most loyal government paper. Unfortunately I am not so optimistic as Mr Goodfriend, and many of you are about the prospect of having such eye-openers brought forward in the future. Clearly MN believed that they have a case and they will “win” this interview. There was no turning back, and by editing out or not publishing such article would of been a full pledged political mistake. Even MN knew that. THe simple consequence will be, as not to have similar interviews with any liberals/democrats/Jews/foreigners who’s views are supported by historical and cultural knowledge, facts, broader approach, and possess… Read more »
gdfxx
Guest

Eva:”Not just nowadays. It was this way already in the 1930s. The famous Montgomery whom Horthy-apologists like to quote was also a political appointee. Nestlé maybe. FDR supporter. All of Bush’s appointees were also rich donors.”

I meant “nowadays” from a historical perspective; I am sure Benjamin Franklin was not named ambassador to Paris because of his fund raising successes.

petofi
Guest

It’s high time that people started to see through Orban’s ‘smoke and mirror’ mis-directions.

He pulls these fuzz-ball issues–like the recent speech–to cover more relevant issues such as:

a) Moscow’s increasing belligerence and Hungary’s reaction to it;
b) Paks and the advisability of Hungary being tethered to ‘such a Russia’ for the next 30 years;
c) Possible joint actions of EU members against Russia.

Orban creats non-issues to obfuscate.

petofi
Guest

Oh yes, the Hungarians have a phrase for what Orban is doing: “throwing a ‘gumi csont'” (ie. throwing a rubber bone.

W. Kempelen
Guest

Has this been on HS already?

“Moscow’s Trojan horse” (i.e. V.O.) by Jan-Werner Müller, who by the way wrote a great book about chief nazi legal ideologue Carl Schmitt, who had a great influence in the post-war era, influencing even the left wing.

http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/141825/jan-werner-mueller/moscows-trojan-horse

If we add the fact that the Orban family (as in “Yanukovich family” or “Yeltsin family”) also receives a substantial cut from the energy trade (in addition to which comes Paks 2), then maybe this Trojan horse is not such an exaggeration after all.

Istvan
Guest
Andre Goodfriend’s interview in Magyar Nemzet was very interesting. I thought that his discussion of dual citizenship when asked was not fully forthcoming. Below was his response to the question asking for clarification on the US position on this issue: “Citizenship, and its incumbent responsibilities and rights, is generally a matter between the individual and the state which grants citizenship. The U.S. focus, with regard to citizenship, when speaking to other countries, is generally that “citizenship” is a universal human right — everyone has a right to a citizenship. This precept is in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which both the United States and Hungary uphold. It is for Hungarians to discuss the nature of their own society, and how their society is changed or the complications that arise when it offers Hungarian citizenship to those who don’t reside in Hungary and who already have a citizenship elsewhere.” While this statement is formally correct as far as it went, there is more to this story. The U.S. Government recognizes that dual nationality exists but does not encourage it as a matter of policy because of the problems it may cause for US nationals that are dual Hungarian citizens, or… Read more »
Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

gdfxx : I am sure Benjamin Franklin was not named ambassador to Paris because of his fund raising successes.

Surely. On the other hand while in Paris he was instrumental in large fund raising operations… for the American Revolution. And I’m pretty sure Thomas Jefferson, his successor, also had a lot of financial deals to make. 😉

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

@Istvan: in contrary, I found the answer quite good.

First, because he framed the subject by starting at a relatively recent time – that of the UN declaration. As you probably know, the subject of citizenship in the U.S. is historically linked to statehood and very complicated: American Indians not being given citizenship until the 1900s, nationals not always being equal to citizens, citizenship not always meaning citizenship rights, etc. By starting at the end of the 1940s, he established a reference point that is shared by both Hungary and the U.S. today.

Second, the ‘non-encouragement’ policy, the preventions you mention, clearly appear in his next paragraph. These are views shared by most ‘Western’ countries, including of course today’s Hungary… except when it comes to ‘pre-Trianon Hungarians’, or more exactly ‘pre-Trianon Magyars’.

That’s his (very diplomatic) point: he doesn’t question the motives beyond OV’s passport-distribution frenzy. But he invites the readers to think about the consequences.

Guest

Double citizenship really is a pain in the a** and totally unnecessary in the EU, though of course it helps to have a US passport – sometimes …

But everybody knows of course that Orbán did it only for the votes – not even for the money as the new Hungarian citizens don’t pay any taxes in Hungary, unlike people with a US citizenship in the USA e g.

Imho Mr.Goodfriend used the strongest diplomatic language available re Orbán and the Hungarian government without getting rude!

Though I’m not an expert I know that diplomats always use “cautionary terms” – and he used a lot of them …

PS and not too much OT:

I still remember when I read somewhere from a German diplomat “Das war nicht sehr hilfreich” (“This was not very helpful”) about someone else’s activities.

Now in plain language this means: It was utterly stupid, crazy, you name it …

GaborG
Guest

“The harsh reality is that a significant proportion of people in Turkey don’t give two hoots about the liberal secular elite and their over-educated, idealistic, eco-friendly offspring.

‘They had their turn and now it’s ours,’ said a man playing backgammon in a tea shop on a narrow sloping street in the less trendy Tarlabasi district on the other side of Taksim Square.”

This is about Erdogan by the BBC, but could be about Orban too — despite the fact that Orban’s economic results are more than disastrous so far (and the potentially “high” GDP growth will mean nothing in reality for the people).

But people love Orban and want him back for more and he is certainly preparing the constitutional amendments for a similar transition to a (say 7-9-year) presidency of the Horthy style (maybe not via a direct election, but if the opposition is divided, why not?).

People could not imagine their lives without Viktor, they certainly could not imagine their lives with people like Csaba Horvath or other third rate szoci people.

At least “our Viktor” (actually meaning winner) is a winner and it is always better to associate with winners than with hopeless losers.

Istvan
Guest

Re: Marcel just for the record the United States did not support the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (U.N. DRIP) we voted against that resolution. President Obama in 2010 announced support for the UN DRIP,

The US State Department does not regard the Declaration as binding law, but recognizes it as having both moral and political force. Some international treaties become US law. However, UNDRIP is only a resolution. It has not been ratified by the Senate and, therefore, is not binding on the United States. While it is not law, the US aspires to fulfill the spirit of the resolution.

The State Department released the official US position statement. It makes clear that the US regards UNDRIP’s concept of “self-determination” to be limited by existing laws and policies. That is, federally recognized tribes have inherent but limited powers of self-governance.

In relation to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it states “Everyone has the right to a nationality.'” not multiple nationalities. It also states: “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.” That passage creates no right of dual nationality.

Guest

The American chargé d’affaires in Budapest posting a comment on Hungarian Spectrum may be understood as an endorsement.

Member

wolfi: “the new Hungarian citizens don’t pay any taxes in Hungary, unlike people with a US citizenship in the USA e g.”
I am not sure what exactly you meant, as dual citizens in the USA not necessarily taxed either. It depends, where did they earn the money, and/or how long they stayed outside or inside the borders. Even non USA citizens can end-up paying taxes in the USA if they stay longer then a certain amount of time and/or based the nature of their earnings.

Ron
Guest

Some1 Simplistically Wolfi meant that everybody with an USA passport is required to pay tax. However, if you paid tax somewhere else, that tax paid may be used as a tax credit in the USA.

In general for taxes the rule is that you need to pay your taxes in the country in which you stayed more than 189 days.

Penny Oswalt
Guest

I am a “warm hearted liberal” and hungarian, how will I be treated if I come to Hungary. What about us???

Guest
@Some1: If I understand it correctly (read about this on a German&US forum) the USA asks every one of its citizens to file with the IRS – of course if you earned your money somewhere else and paid your taxes that’s ok then. It often happens that children of US soldiers in Germany realise that they can ask for US citizenship (and thus have the chance to immigrate …) but then they have to follow certain rules … But of course that’s a completely different thing from Orbán’s ideas of giving everyone who somehow qualifies a Hungarian citizenship. A bit OT: After 1989 many people from the Soviet Union tried to get to Germany to find a better life – now one possibility was to prove somehow that you had German ancestry, however remote. So there was this joke: Someone is asks what his connections to Germany are and he answers: My grandfather regularly took our neighbour’s dog for a walk and that was a pure bred German shepherd! I’ve heard that some people from Ukraine used a similar kind of ruse (and maybe a bribe …) to get a Hungarian passport – which of course lets them enter most… Read more »
M. Andre Goodfriend
Guest
Fascinating discussion, as always. I’ll chime back in with reference to a couple points addressed to me, or on which I might be able to shed some more light. @Some1, I agree that Magyar Nemzet and the U.S. Embassy both saw it as serving a self-interest to conduct this interview. For me, it was an opportunity to hear the perspectives of the interviewer and to reach an audience that we may not usually reach. While it would be for Magyar Nemzet to state its reasons for conducting the interview, as a newspaper that seeks to cover a range of stories and occasionally seeks comment from embassies, politicians, etc., it might be difficult to refuse interviews with public figures — even those with whom they disagree. I try though not to go into an interview looking at it as a sparring match, but rather as a chance to have a discussion with the interviewer, and to respond to his or her questions as best I can. It lets each of us get our points across, and perhaps leaves the way open for future conversations. Then again, there are also other outlets for conversation, multiple newspapers, news portals, blogs (including this one),… Read more »
Member

@ Mr. Goodfriend: THank you very much for your in-depth answer. It is truly unfortunate that the Hungarian government fails to inform the Hungarian public of its cooperation with the USA. It seems that the “we will protect Hungary from the Western world” popularity tactic would not work so much if the highly uninformed readership of certain media got wind of the two government’s cooperation. Based articles and attacks coming from Bayer, similar “journalist”, and form the COF (that is financed by Fidesz), I feel that my observation of Orban’s peacock dance is warranted.
THank you for your time, and please do keep up your great work!

wpDiscuz