Hungary through American eyes

American diplomats have been employing novel ways of communication. For example, yesterday Daniel Fried gave a press conference by telephone from Washington to a small number of Hungarian journalists about the American position on economic sanctions against Russia. Daniel Fried is the State Department’s coordinator for sanctions policy.

Fried is a senior diplomat with vast experience in Eastern Europe. He served as political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in Soviet times; he headed the Polish desk during the regime change in the late 1980s. After Poland emerged as one of the democracies of the region, he was political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw. Later he served as assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs and special assistant to the president and senior director for European and Eurasian affairs at the National Security Council. So, why does Daniel Fried think that he has to give a long-distant press conference for Hungarian journalists? Surely, because Washington wants the Hungarian public to know the American position on Russian aggression against Ukraine. And it also wants to share its opinion of the current state of Russian-Hungarian relations.

Ambassador Daniel Fried

Ambassador Daniel Fried

Up to this point we have two independent versions of the telephone interview: one from Népszabadság and the other from VilággazdaságI can’t imagine that MTI was not invited, but for the time being there is no MTI report on the event.

The main message was that sanctions will be applied as long as Moscow does not fulfill all twelve points of the Minsk Agreement. A good summary of these twelve points can be found on the BBC website. Russian regular troops are still on Ukrainian soil and “the Russian aggression continues.” The United States wants a political solution to the crisis and is ready to cooperate with Russia in many areas, but Russia must respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. With its aggression against Ukraine Russia “seriously endangers the European security system that came into being after the 1989-1990 East European events.” If Russian aggression continues, the United States and the European Union are ready to introduce new sanctions.

Fried then turned to specifically Hungarian issues. Hungary and its prime minister should know from Hungarian history what it is like when a country is left alone unprotected in the event of outside aggression. Therefore Hungary ought to realize the importance of the steps that are being taken in this case. Viktor Orbán first claimed that “the European Union shot itself in the foot when it introduced sanctions against Russia” and later at the NATO summit in Wales he declared that “we are hawks when it comes to military security but doves in economic terms.” Fried said that “we all want to be on good terms with Russia, to improve our relations, but this is not the right time for friendship.” Fried cited Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s claim that sanctions only deepen the Ukrainian crisis. “The Russians say all sorts of things, many of them are simply not true. After all, they deny that their soldiers are in the territory of Ukraine.”

During the press conference it became clear that talks took place between the Hungarian and the U.S. governments concerning the sanctions. It seems that the U.S. listened to Hungary’s objections but was not impressed.  The sanctions hurt not only Hungarian businesses but businesses of all nations, including those of the United States. The European Union made a brave decision which Hungary supported.

The message was that one cannot play the kind of game Viktor Orbán is playing at the moment. On the one hand, he is a supporter of the common cause against Russia, but when it comes to sanctions he tries to make special deals with Moscow. For instance, Sándor Fazekas, the Hungarian agriculture minister, visited Moscow on September 8 where he had talks with Nikolay Fyedorov, his Russian counterpart. There Fazekas agreed with Fyedorov that “the sanctions don’t offer a solution to the Ukrainian crisis, which should be settled through negotiations.”

And according to leaked documents, we know that Vladimir Putin told Petro Poroshenko during one of their telephone conversations that he “through bilateral contacts can influence some European countries to form ‘a blocking minority’ in the European Council.” The countries he has in mind are Slovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Cyprus. I guess Daniel Fried wanted to make sure that Hungarians understand that Washington fully supports the application of sanctions and that the large majority of the EU countries are also on board.

While we are talking about U.S.-Hungarian relations, I ought to mention that U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D), who is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, and Senator John McCain (R) introduced a resolution in recognition of the International Day of Democracy on September 15. Accompanying the introduction of the resolution Senator Carden’s press release talked at length about the sad state of democracy in Hungary where “there is an unprecedented global crackdown on civil society organizations seeking to express their voice and exercise their rights. Earlier this week, Hungarian authorities raided the offices of two NGOs in Budapest in what appears to be part of a tightening squeeze on civil society. Such actions not only undermine democracy but chill investigative reporting on corruption and good governance. Now, more than ever, is the time for the international community to push back on threats to civil society and protect efforts by these organizations to build strong democratic institutions.”

In addition, on September 18 Deputy Chief of the United States Mission to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Kate Byrnes delivered the following speech to the Permanent Council in Vienna:

Three months ago, on June 19, the United States addressed the Permanent Council regarding an apparent campaign of intimidation directed toward civil society and independent media in Hungary. I regret that I must speak to the Council again on this topic.

As we said in June, just one day after the April 6 elections, the Hungarian government accused organizations that conduct legitimate work in human rights, transparency, and gender equality of serving “foreign interests.” Shortly afterwards, the Prime Minister’s Office alleged that NGOs that monitor and evaluate grant proposals for the EEA-Norway NGO fund were tied to an opposition party. On September 8, Hungary’s National Bureau of Investigation initiated a series of police raids on two NGOs responsible for the EEA-Norway NGO grant program in Hungary. With no prior warning, and in a show of intimidation, over 30 officers entered the NGOs’ facilities and seized the organizations’ documents and computers.

These police raids appear to be aimed at suppressing critical voices and restricting the space for civil society to operate freely. The United States again reminds Hungary of its OSCE commitments to human rights and fundamental freedoms, democracy, and the rule of law.

Mr. Chair, we raise these issues to express our concern about actions that appear inconsistent with OSCE principles, and also to encourage dialogue. We intend to continue to encourage the government of Hungary to observe its commitments and allow NGOs to operate without further harassment, interference, or intimidation. The United States believes that such respect for its commitments will help Hungary to become a more prosperous, robust and inclusive democracy.

Finally, here is something from former President Bill Clinton, who appeared on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. “There’s the authoritarian capitalism model which is Russia and in a different way China, and it has some appeal. Like the Hungarian Prime Minister – they owe a lot to America; he just said he liked authoritarian capitalism, just saying “I don’t ever want to have to leave power” – usually those guys want to stay forever and make money. And there’s the democracy model …”

Hungary is in the news, no doubt. It would be better if it weren’t.

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There will be no real sanctions against Russia from the United States, because the United States has no significant trade with Russia to begin with.

It is easy to scream “stop all trade” if you don’t have any meanwhile Germany would be finished without trade with Russia. Total collapse. We all know that the German government is infiltrated by US agents and subverted, but to bankrupt their whole country for the wishes of the US would simply be treason towards their own population. So that’s how we know there will be no real steps such as Germany not buying Russian oil or gas. Which alone accounts for most of the EU-Russia total trade. the end.


W: There will be no real sanctions against Russia from the United States, because the United States has no significant trade with Russia to begin with.

Really? Direct Import with Russia is around USD 28 Billion in 2013. This looks very significant to me. And this is only the direct import from Russia. Indirect must be significant higher.

W: you have no idea about Germany or the resilience of any diversified competitive economy (such as Sweden, Korea, the US etc.) if you think its economy could totally collapse by the loss of one trading partner, even if that is a significant one. Germany depends on Russian energy, sure, but to say that Germany or Sweden etc. could not absorb even the entire loss of the Russian market is ridiculous, not that this would be expected from Germany or the EU. By the way exactly this intertwined nature of the economy which plays to the hands of Russian and Chinese politicians. Once an economy depends (or at least the relationship could be narrated as one of dependence) on say Russia, or at least there are some industries or corporations which feel as though they depended on Russia at least for their year-end bonuses, then Russia does not have to do anything, such individual corporations will be Russia’s best agents, lobbying on behalf of Russia (or China) crying all over the media scaring politicians. But this subjective feeling of dependence is entirely different from actually being dependent on Russia. Would Siemens or Daimler-Benz collapse if they lost I dunno 13%… Read more »
This narrative is essentially very biased towards the US and plays into the current, IMHO, insane US foreign policy. What does the US or even the EU care about Ukraine? Really, it is an insignificant question but bears mightily on the hegemonic and “sole superpower” iconic fable of Empire US. What Russia really did, and which triggered the massive response from the US was to make noises (rather loudly) to move the planet away from the petrodollar. It was this same noise which is the reason the US trumped up a war to oust Saddam Hussein and what led to the decline of the Middle East. What the US really is after is absolute and unquestioned global dominance. What the EU doesn’t seem to understand is the US, by causing this fiasco in Ukraine, is also going to collapse the EU economy thus killing two birds with one stone. Like W said earlier the US has very little at stake in regards to direct Russian trade. That is not actually true as Exxon-Mobil and the ilk are doing large amounts of joint partnerships in Russia which will now be cancelled if this is taken to it’s extreme. The language from… Read more »

Listen to

Short discussion has been just finished on: How the Governments Hijacked the Media.

Pakisttan, Morocco, Hungary….

Go to the podcast.


Are W and Richard Russion trolls or Fidesz henchmen?

Really weird logic in their pro-Putin statements. Nothing about democracy, liberalism, freedom – the “main pillars” of Russia and Hungary right now …

To believe that German economy depends on Russian exports and imports is really strange

Richard: it is one thing that you are a KGB troll (it is interesting to note that KGB trolls are active on blogs dedicated solely to Hungary, but then again the siloviki have country-specific strategies for each and every EU member state, and especially for those which are known to be open to Russian approaches), but this does not mean you had to be an idiot. Why, oh, why would any Western European state be a failed state if they had to live and consume at 2007 or even at 1997 levels? Do you have any idea how these nations lived in 1997 or even in 1985? Or do you have any idea how Belgians live these days (compared to an average Russian or Hungarian)? Belgians lived without a central government for a year and they were mighty fine (even if they will one day separate) and somehow not collapsing without a crazy dictator ruling them. Only a sick, twisted mind of an Orban and Dugin could think that a GDP decrease of, let’s say, an almost unheard of 30% (comparable to the Great Depression) would bring along a “collapse” in the West. The only collapse Richard and friends saw… Read more »

Tomasso, thanks!

You said it much more succinctly than I could.

PS and not too much OT:

We’ve been in Germany for sometime and will drive back to Hungary tomorrow. Every time we pass the Austrian/Hungarian border we feel like entering a different world, those little villages between Szentgotthard and Körmend with their many dilapidated “almost ruins” compared to the well kept houses in Burgenland …

We also see so many closed shops, restaurants and hotels on the way, it makes me wonder …

And this is the affluent part of Hungary – it gets worse when we drive to my wife’s home town in the East. Sometimes I feel like travelling back 50 years in time – where are those million new jobs that Orbán promised?
How has the average Hungarian profited from the fall of Communism – I’m not talking about those mafiosi in their shiny big Audis …

Wolfi: űThere are no millions of jobs of course. During the last 4-5 years Orban “created” something like 50k real jobs not counting GDP-consuming rural public works and accounting tricks like the inclusion of any which way estimated number of people working abroad but “living” in Hungary. But people are OK with that, and apparently no opposition can offer anything better. People like this “state of war” against the West, the EU, the liberals, the US, the gays etc., and they will happily vote for Fidesz yet again and again. People (with the help of Fidesz’ media empire) created a closed world for themselves in which they are winning against the West and at least are resisting the bad actors coming from the west. This is a religion, a delusion, a dreamworld but people are actively seeking this dreamworld and resisting by any means necessary waking up. Why? Because they feel that in capitalism they are considered superfluous, that there is no need for their existence in this world, everything else can be produced by China or the west, they are only here to consume stuff produced elsewhere. So instead of working crazy like the Chinese do, people get depressed… Read more »
This is perhaps slightly OT, but when I was a teenager visiting and later as an adult living in Budapest for several years, I would consistently be lectured about how I couldn’t possible understand what went on and what is going on in Hungary because I didn’t grow up there ( te nem érted, te nem itt jöttél fel!). Fair enough. However, these exact same people would go on and lecture ME about the negatives of the “American way of life”, despite my correcting them over and over that I am in fact Canadian, to which the response is invariably, ” jaj hat az ugyanaz” (oh, it’s the same thing). Needless to add, but I will mention that the people passing negative judgement on the North American way of life did not speak English, or very, very poorly and would not understand a newspaper article in English to save their life, and quite often based their “expert” knowledge on what goes on in the USA on the “neighbours’ son’s best friend’ s cousin” who is working in the US under the table. This was the case during communism, when people didn’t get to travel much. Unfortunately, this is still the… Read more »

“Too bad Ferenc Kumin is not here any more, he would surely explain that Clinton really talked about Gyurcsany and about ‘the past-8-years’. And why was Clinton silent in 2006? Where was Clinton when Janos Zuschlag made fun of the holocaust?”


Being completely free also means that you have to decide all by yourself, but even have to handle the consequences of your decisions too, whatever the outcome.
Of course, it present some difficulties, particularly to the slave-minded – there is nobody else to blame!
– Oh no, we don’t want this hardship! Viktor, save us from the misery of take responsibility for our life..! – said two thirds of the Hungarian voters…

The rest is history.
In fact, one of the more shameful kind of history, but nevertheless achieved the importance to be part of the Hungarian history which is being constantly rewritten and updated, according to daily needs.

Once again Hungary is on the wrong side, and they just love it:
– Everyone is against us! Now we have nothing else to do just blame the rest of the world for our misfortune..!

– And they lived gloomily ever after…


@Lopp and the other commenters:

I’m still wondering who voted for Orbán …

The people we’re in contact with are of three kinds:

First our neighbours (near Hévíz) who work hard all day – some have contacts to “the outside world” and know what’s going on so I couldn’t understand them voting for Fidesz (ok, some are xenophobic and maybe Jobbik potential).

Then there the young ones (my wife’s son, wife and friends) – they are typical cosmopolitan main city dwellers, speak good English and use the internet for everything, so who do they vote for?

And my wife’s siblings surely vote MSZP/DK – they have seen corruption on all levels, before and after 1989 …

So who are those people crazy enough to be happy with Orbán’s “We are not a colony!” against the “EUSSR”? Are there so many masochists in Hungary?


I’m not talking about those mafiosi who profit big – like the mayor of Felcút and others.

Well the nice thing about these kinds of blogs is that everyone is entitled to their opinion. I am actually an American living in Hungary for the past 6 years who worked for the US government for over 40 years so I believe I know what I’m talking about with regards to the US and the rest of the world. I have served in many countries including Germany, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan. I have also fought in Angola, Ethiopia, Somalia, Iraq, Honduras, and El Salvador so I have first hand experience of American foreign policy. I have also been on humanitarian assistance projects in Peru, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Haiti, and Guyana. So, I have seen first hand both sides of the equation. However, I do love my country despite the evils it has plagued on the world the past 40 years or so and believe overall it is a good country but has gone off the rails for some time now. I recognize that there are two different Americas and that we have entered a phase of global expansion and hegemony while having the worst standard of living and the greatest income spread of the world. You don’t… Read more »
Most Russian trolls seem like writing exercises for would be KGBers. Richard seems like the teacher who’s going to show the class how it’s done. All the name-dropping of countries is supposed to floor us with his ‘credentials’. It doesn’t. So now comes the big serve: “I love my country…but it has gone off the rails the last 40 years..” You don’t say. Then the finger-pointing: ‘global hegemony’, and the enigmatic ‘worst standard of living’. Worse than what? Russia? This is classic KGB misrepresentation and nonsense. I’d like to ask Richard in what sense American has extended its power; or one country that it has occupied. None, actually. The US has spent billions taking Iraq but the major problem there was the follow-up: it should’ve remained a US controlled territory like Japan was after the war, for maybe 20 years or so. Otherwise, transplanting ‘democracy’ is a non-starter. The US has done little more than deplete its treasury (and maybe help the arms industry in California) but that’s it. Of course, the rest of “Richard’s” offering is full of it: he came to Hungary to enjoy ‘excellent values’ (huh?); decadent society of the US….classic KGBisms. I leave it to the… Read more »

A colleague of Richard’s must be Megdet Ahimdulov (who can no longer be found on Google…hmm)–he of the KGB/Gasprom/Energy Entrepreneur/OTP shareholder transformations.

He came to Hungary for the ‘waters’, I suppose; the fine air of Felcsut, and that same towns
high society, no doubt.

Ladies and Gentlemen, there are more Russian agents in Hungary than termites…actually, they’re neck and neck.

Why, pray tell, why?

Please, Viktor, tell us about your university Moscow days in that one fine sports jacket of yours, please.

Richard, so you are an American who moved to Hungary to get away from a decadent society and enjoy Hungary’s realative good values? Could you please expand on which good values you are talking about? Are you also enjoying the high quality customer service? How about the functioning bureaucracy? America might be a decadent society, but I for one really hate it when things are narrowed down to black and white, something Hungarians from Hungary have a tendency to do. I know that there are good values to be found in America, too. You just have to know where to look, same as in Hungary. As to being jobless and poor in America, I am assuming that you are not living in Hungary as a poor and unemployed man……otherwise you would be singing a different song. To be poor in Hungary is to truly be poor. One more thing: one of the things I love about the U.S. and Canada, something that is very, very hard to find in Hungary, is the sense of community and doing volunteer work, offering up your free time, for free. I see it in the new Hungarians who recently arrive to North America, most… Read more »

Richard, many of us are of dual nationalities, Hungarians and Americans.

We could be the first to testify that Hungary under Orban is becoming an illiberal, unfree, suffocating place.

Is it not our moral duty to object this development?


As for most Hungarians “wanting the Orbán régime”, I keep asking myself how much this situation can be compared with Russia. Of course, there are huge differences, but there is also something similar in how a large part of educated urban Russians sees their situation.

Recently, Anna-Lena Laurén, the excellent Russian correspondent of the Finland-Swedish “Hufvudstadsbladet”, wrote about the indifference of middle-class Russians towards the growing gap between Russia and the West ( ). Educated, well-to-do urbanites are not necessarily fanatic admirers of Putin, rather, they are simply “not interested in politics”, because “whatever I think, it won’t have any effect anyway”. An independent journalist claims that the main problem is the lack of responsibility in the leading class: they blame the West, while the country is still trying to cope with the consequences of the collapse of the Soviet Union. “This trauma is much, much deeper than anything I could imagine in the 1990s, when I like many others was convinced that there would be no return to the old times. But there was. And we returned much faster than anybody could imagine.”

You guys are a tough sell and some clearly not open to any other opinion than your own. You have bought the entire package without questioning what with your own eyes you can easily see. Obviously, many of you haven’t lived in America or if you did you didn’t visit inner cities or now many large cities. I am from DC and I was there to take care of some real estate business last year which could only be done in person. What I saw was at every traffic light were people begging for money to buy food. The same in the parking lots of every store I visited. I had dinner at an sidewalk cafe in Georgetown and there was literally a homeless alcoholic lying in the gutter not 10 cm from my feet. To compare life in Hungary to that in the US is somewhat difficult as I am not sure you will understand it unless you are there to see it. There is rampant homelessness. People everywhere in the country live on the streets. Unemployment is somewhere around 24% and 60% of all new jobs created since 2008 are part time. People in America typically only get… Read more »

Richard, you’ve never seen homeless people in Hungary? Are you serious? You must live in some rich district of Buda and haven’t left it for years. Try going out to the “countryside.” Drunks lying in the street are not that uncommon either, despite the increased police patrols.


Richard is hilarious. “Unemployment is somewhere around 24%” in America? I believe that rate was reached in the 1930s at the height of the depression, but currently is 6 or 7 percent.
Being murdered in the is a “constant” threat? Wow, now that’s scary. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, (
The US had 14,827 homicides in 2012, a rate of 4.7 per 100.000, which we can all agree is pretty terrible. But then the oh-so admirable Russian Federation had 13,120 with a smaller total population so its rate was 9.2 per 100,000 which is almost twice the US rate.
Our new friend writes “I haven’t seen one homeless person in Hungary”. I suppose that’s possible. I, on the other hand, see them every day, and am frequently hit up for money.
Thanks for your input, Richard. Very entertaining.


What I don’t get about Clinton’s speech is what does he mean by Hungary owing a lot to the US??? I’m personally a fan of Bill, and he was spot on with everything, but this arrogant American exceptionalist bs is really tiresome, not to mention that this is probably the only thing everyone in Hungary will hear, not hard to guess, it’s not going to make Orbán weaker.

But objectively, I was trying to think, what do we owe the US? Western Europe maybe for the Marshall plan, Kosovo definitely for their independence but what did the US directly do for Hungary? Or is this the usual, “America is the guardian of the light against the army of darkness all over the globe so we all owe it bs”? I am absolutely pro-western, but this half of a sentence made me raise my eyebrows.


Richard, as you yourself mentioned with regards to the U.S., if one has enough money, one can live very well in Hungary as well ( or anywhere, really). But the fact that you write that you have never seen a homeless person in Hungary, or were never accosted by one in the street suggests to me that you are indeed living an extremely sheltered life in Hungary, someone who hardly leaves their Buda home ( if you happen to live in Budaoest) or goes everywhere by car: from home to point B. Because if you took any form of public transport, especially the busses that run along from Bosnyak ter to Deak ferenc ter, or any metro, or hang around outside most inner city churches, the train stations, outside the malls, etc, you would see many homeless. So either you live a sheltered life, or you are an Orbán troll, because ” never having a homeless person in Hungary ” is a dead give away.


Not only does Richard not live in Hungary, he doesn’t live on this planet.
“I have also fought in Angola, Ethiopia, Somalia, Iraq, Honduras, and El Salvador so I have first hand experience of American foreign policy.”
What a busy boy, or I should say what a busy imagination.

About the comparison between Hungary and Russia: I think the main point is the indifference of large parts of the population. In both countries (and in other countries as well) there are hopeless people who can only concentrate on surviving, in poverty and squalor, and there are some activists who sincerely try to affect political change. But there is a small part of the society who is directly profiting from the present régime (the oligarchs and their clients, that is), and a much more numerous part which doesn’t suffer *very* much and therefore remains indifferent because it cannot even imagine that there would be a viable alternative. And, as in the days of Socialism, they know that keeping quiet about unpleasant things is for their own good. For these people, there simply is no political alternative, because all political forces they know of are those of a neo-feudal maffia state, there are no abstract or neutral principles or ideologies but simply networks of loyalty. Moreover, both in Russia (of Soviet times and under Putin) and in Hungary (since Trianon at least, but in a certain sense since Mohács) there is the good old tradition of scapegoat-seeking and political paranoia. Our… Read more »
Annette Lantos Tillemann-Dick
Annette Lantos Tillemann-Dick
I am grateful for this erudite discussion of the challenges facing Hungary, the US and the world. A tad more respect for each of those who takes the time to contribute their wide ranging perspectives would be nice, though perhaps a pinch of erös paprika does spice things up a bit. Having just returned from a week of Holocaust memorial events in several Hungarian cities, my take away is: the problems and paradoxical concerns of Hungary and Hungarians are more complex than meet the eye. To patriotic Hungarians who want the best for their nation I would warn, beware of greed, beware of a compromised free society, beware of the sins of anti-semitism and irrational bigotry whose attendant horrors scarred the Hungarian soul and decimated one of it’s extraordinarily talented groups of people. Remember, trite as it may sound, freedom isn’t free: it requires courage, responsibility and the willingness to volunteer one’s time and talents to many worthy enterprises by active involvement in the political process and if possible a legitimate faith community, vigilant organizations that are watchdogs for society in the arenas of ethics in high places, the environment and economic equity. These phrases are shorthand for things that… Read more »
Annette those are nice comments. I am laughing at the interesting discussion about where I live. You obviously haven’t done anything. I live on Lake Balaton and use UPC so that isn’t particularly difficult to figure out. As for my experience I spent 40 years in the US Army 10 as a soldier and 20 as an officer and 10 as a senior civilian scientist. I mentioned this to negate the accusations that I do not have a clue what I am talking about but apparently to some of you anyone voicing a contradictory opinion is obviously a Russian agent. Get a clue guys. The US has been at constant war since my birth. Since I was drafted into the Army in 1971 we have had so many armed conflicts it is hard to keep track. I lost count at 21 but I believe the number is a lot higher. I have been directly involved in some but not in others. For example I was sent to Germany instead of Vietnam during that conflict. That is the way the chips fall sometimes. The ethiopian fighting I was involved in was unexpected and it was in defense of the US Embassy… Read more »

Masha Gessen and her brother Keith Gessen are both very insightful observers of Russia and both write extremely well.