The Hungarian government’s wishful thinking about a change at the U.S. embassy

It is with a certain amusement that I have been watching the Hungarian right-wing media’s attempts to discredit M. André Goodfriend, the American chargé d’affaires of the Budapest embassy. After all, he is currently the top representative of the United States, a country the Hungarian right has never been too fond of. Their dislike of the United States only intensified after 2001 when George W. Bush found Viktor Orbán’s post-9/11 behavior so objectionable. The Hungarian prime minister is still persona non grata in the White House. During the last two U.S. presidential campaigns Viktor Orbán and some high-level Fidesz politicians demonstrated their preference for the Republican party, assuming that a Republican administration would have better relations with a national-Christian “conservative” Hungarian government. Of course, their assumption that Republicans would be more tolerant of an “illiberal state” that is in cahoots with Vladimir Putin’s Russia shows a total misunderstanding of American political reality.

Another Hungarian misconception is that it is Goodfriend who is personally responsible for the strained relations between Washington and Budapest because he oversteps the diplomatic bounds that are supposed to direct his behavior. If he would just stay put, never leave the embassy, not attend demonstrations, and not use Twitter, then American “attacks” on the current Hungarian government would come to an end. And since the reporters on the state television’s newscast and the journalists at Magyar Nemzet and  Válasz blame André Goodfriend personally, their attacks also concentrate on his person. With eagle eyes they watch his every step and find fault with everything he says. By now even his wife, Frances Goodfriend, has become a target. Pesti srácok, a far-right internet site, reported that she attended the demonstration in front of the parliament on November 17. A day later Magyar Nemzet reported that the Goodfriends visited László Bitó’s open house. Since Bitó often writes in Galamus, an internet opinion portal that is allegedly close to Ferenc Gyurcsány, the next thing we heard was that Goodfriend “is playing from Ferenc Gyurcsány’s score.” In brief, behind the current strained relations between the United States and Hungary is none other than the arch-enemy of Viktor Orbán, Ferenc Gyurcsány.

The Hungarian right became terribly offended when Goodfriend wrote on Twitter: “I think of Webster-Hulsemann in considering US support for shared values” and gave a link to “Interesting Historical Notes.” What was this Webster-Hulsemann exchange? In 1850 the Austrian Johann Georg Hulsemann, the Austrian representative in Washington, objected to American interference in the domestic affairs of Hungary. He stated that his government “deemed it proper to preserve a conciliatory deportment making ample allowance for the ignorance of the Cabinet of Washington on the subject of Hungarian affairs and its disposition to give credence to the mendacious rumors which are propagated by the American press.” To this statement Secretary of State Daniel Webster replied in kind: “Nothing will deter either the Government or the people of the United States from … forming and expressing their own opinions freely and at all times upon the great political events which may transpire among the civilized nations of the earth.” Webster’s letter to Hulsemann can be read in its entirely here.

Well, that inspired Zsuzsanna Körmendy, one of the most demagogic journalists of Magyar Nemzet, to write a lengthy op/ed piece on the subject. The whole article is full of insults and personal attacks on André Goodfriend. She accuses the American diplomat of being ignorant of history and says that if he just read one grade 8 history textbook “he wouldn’t say such stupidities.” Moreover, the comparison is false. Zachary Taylor, the president at the time, simply expressed his opinion and “did not send a note to the Hungarian government about banning certain foreigners from U.S. soil.” In the 1850s the United States was a democratic country and “if America today would be as much of a freedom loving country as it was then, perhaps it would look upon the Orbán government differently. It would appreciate more [Hungarian] attempts at independent solutions.” All in all, the reference to Webster and Hulsemann is, she argues, insulting to the democratic people of Hungary who overwhelmingly voted for Viktor Orbán and his team.

"Let's hope we will be also grateful" / Esti Hírlap

“Let’s hope we will be also grateful” / Esti Hírlap

And then came the great news for the Hungarian right. On November 21 The Washington Post reported that, after “after much delay and hand wringing,” on December 1 the Senate will vote on the confirmation of Colleen Bell who was nominated to be the next U.S. ambassador to Hungary. Well, that piece of news roused the right-wing journalists in Hungary. On the very same day Esti Hírlap reported the news with this headline: “First the turkey–then perhaps there will be an ambassador.” A picture under the headline showed a Thanksgiving turkey with the caption: “Let’s hope we will be grateful too!” Válasz was also inspired by the news: “The days of Goodfriend are numbered: Ten days and we’ll know it all.” But the most outrageous handling of the news came from Híradóthe official news broadcast of the state television. The television news claimed to know that Goodfriend will be recalled because “lately he appeared too often in left-wing and liberal circles.” According to Goodfriend’s “official” autobiography, “earlier he worked for the Bureau of International Organization” which, according to the information Híradó received, “worked out methods with which the local opposition in conjunction with civic organizations can overthrow the government of post-Soviet states if the interests of the United States so desire.”

Well, that’s quite something, especially because that utter nonsense was read on a newscast that can be watched nationwide without cable. So, let’s see what this “insidious” organization actually does. The Bureau of International Organization Affairs is part of the State Department and it is subordinated to the Undersecretary of Political Affairs. According to the official website:  “The Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO) is the U.S. Government’s primary interlocutor with the United Nations and a host of international agencies and organizations.” So much for responsible reporting by Hungarian state television.

As for these people’s fondest hope that M. André Goodfriend will be recalled because he was a bad boy, well, dream on, fellows. Most likely nothing will change after December 1. I suggest taking a look at the Wikileaks’ documents pertaining to the U.S. Embassy in Budapest. That gives an idea of the division of labor among the top officials of an embassy. Colleen Bell, if confirmed, will be the public face of the American presence in Budapest while the second in charge will most likely be Goodfriend, a professional diplomat. And I’m sure he will continue to tweet and to visit public events just as before.

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Istvan
Guest
I am in complete agreement with Eva’s post, especially her assessment of American conservatism in relation to the eastern wind doctrine of Orban. I have to say that Zsuzsanna Körmendy statement about the United States of America being a more freedom loving nation in 1850 than it is today is astounding. I hope she realizes that in 1850 slavery was legal in the USA and it took a bloody civil war to abolish slavery and pass the 13th amendment to the US constitution that abolished slavery in the United States. Since Eva posted the Turkey picture I would add that our first Thanksgiving was declared by President Lincoln who in the proclamation stated in part: “The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

“The ratio of non-performing loans in Hungarian banks’ retail lending portfolio reached 19.4% at the end of the third quarter”

“Within restructured loans, NPLs accounted for 53.3% of the total”

http://www.bbj.hu/economy/mnb-hungarian-banks-retail-npl-ratio-reaches-194percent-_88573

(“A loan is nonperforming when payments of interest and principal are past due by 90 days or more, or at least 90 days of interest payments have been capitalized, refinanced or delayed by agreement, or payments are less than 90 days overdue, but there are other good reasons to doubt that payments will be made in full” – IMF definition)

in arrears on September 30, 2014 [2009]

less than 3 months: 14.5% [12.7%]
more than 3 months: 19.4% [7.0%]

Almost 1/6 (14.9%) of all loans are in arrears for more than one year.

http://www.portfolio.hu/finanszirozas/hitel/tessek_megkapaszkodni_soha_nem_dolt_meg_be_ennyi_hitelunk.1.206934.html

tappanch
Guest

The percentage in value of the problematic mortgages denominated in foreign currencies as of September 30 of each year. (# of all mortgages in foreign currency, in thousands)

2009: 8.2%
2010: 16.8%
2011: 25.1% (341)
2012: 39.3% (230)
2013: 53.6% (217)
2014: 51.0% (206)

see tab 1.3 in
http://www.mnb.hu/Root/Dokumentumtar/MNB/Statisztika/mnbhu_statisztikai_idosorok/penzugyi-stabilitasi-statisztikak/A_haztartasi_szektor_reszere_nyujtott_hitelallomany_osszetetele.xls

tappanch
Guest

Total outstanding loans to individuals, as of September 30 each year, in trillions of forints.

2009: 5.58
2010: 5.96
2011: 8.25
2012: 6.80
2013: 6.57
2014: 6.42

tab 5.15 in the reference above

o-hen
Guest

Around September, Greece was on the last place in the EU ranking.

Based on the recent political meltdown, Hungary will be terminated in the EU. Even the last place will be a compliment to Orban.

Europe must shift to emergency gear, and remove the regime, by dragging the whole administration in the international courts. These non-European regimes, Iran, Russia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Gaza, Sudan, Libya, Syria must be indicted, too.

We need a new UN security council, without Russia and China, which can harness the international chaos. Probably, Germany must chair the security council.

The USA is not worthy of the leadership position.

Wondercat
Guest

“First the turkey–then perhaps there will be an ambassador.” A picture under the headline showed a Thanksgiving turkey with the caption: “Let’s hope we will be grateful too!” — What is shown is not, I believe, a high-keeled turkey, legs at mid-body, but instead a long, low goose, legs well behind the carcass centre. Again: So much for reportorial skills at ESTI HIRLAP.

Member

Hungary, Hulsemann and Hearts

(1) Relieved if Mr. Goodfriend stays on. He is the best thing that has happened to (and for) Hungary in a half-decade. (But of course that really means positive US diplomacy and policy, of which Mr. Goodfriend is merely a highly professional — as well as a sympathetic and personable — reflection. He will be an invaluable asset to the new ambassador.)

(2) The link to Webster’s letter to Hulsemann seems to be wrong: //hungarianspectrum.org/2014/11/24/the-hungarian-governments-wishful-thinking-about-a-change-at-the-u-s-embassy/%22Nothing%20will%20deter%20either%20the%20Government%20or%20the%20people%20of%20the%20United%20States%20from…%20forming%20and%20expressing%20their%20own%20opinions%20freely%20and%20at%20all%20times%20upon%20the%20great%20political%20events%20which%20may%20transpire%20among%20the%20civilized%20nations%20of%20the%20earth.%20Their%20own%20institutions%20stand%20upon%20the%20broadest%20principles%20of%20civil%20liberty;%20and%20believing%20those%20principles…%20to%20be…%20in%20fact%20the%20only%20principles%20of%20government%20which%20meet%20the%20demands%20of%20the%20present%20enlightened%20age,%20the%20President%20has%20perceived%20with%20great%20satisfaction%20that%20in%20the%20constitution%20recently%20introduced%20into%20the%20Austrian%20Empire%20many%20of%20these%20great%20principles%20are%20recognized%20and%20applied.%22

(3) Not OT: Please forgive me for still being unable to smile benignly, patriotically or triflingly at the heartless travesty of “Thanksgiving” that consists in sacrificing innocent, helpless victims, purpose mis-bred, brutalized and butchered in the service of a cruel rite that could not be further from what Lincoln said “cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible.”

Member

For those who possess the stomach (or lack the heart), search google images on “turkey slaughter”… (you’ll find a grinning Sarah Palin too, enjoying the spectacle)…

Guest

Though I am no vegetarian I have to agree with Stevan re turkeys and my wife would too – she eats, well not everything, but absolutely no turkey.

I still remember vividly when on our first holiday in the USA (Nov 2008, after Hungary became part of the visa waiver program)) we went into a Publix in Miami and she saw those poor gigantic overfed birds in the freezer …

Back to the topic:

I sure hope Mr Goodfriend will stay in Budapest to look at and comment at the Hungarian government ‘s idiocies!

Serrano
Guest
The right wing pundits and the politicians do want to dream on. The voters, especially the fidesz voters also want to dream on. However, Fidesz’ argumentation has always several layers. Fideszniks put a lot of hope on the recall of Goodfriend, then on a new Republican-lead committees, then on Jeb Bush (who they hope will defeat Clinton as Bush can probably carry Florida and has a latina wife) and so on, but in the end they think that this all really doesn’t matter. Orban’s strategy is always to let the pundits, intellectuals, politicians debate and talk, for that’s their job. As long as there’s debate, a media hysteria, a kind of discourse, few people realizes what this discourse replaces. Plus Orban knows that it’s always much more easier and natural to participate in the discourse than to act on the underlying issues. Orban is building South Stream, Paks 2 is relentlessly being prepared (HUF 28bn already earmarked, but the amount can be increase if necessary), the MET, Olajterv gas and oil deals continue, Orban rules Hungary like a dictator and is amassing his wealth which he can hardly reinvest any more — life goes on unperturbed. And that’s what really… Read more »
edgar
Guest

Hungary is a cleptocracy.

Robobabe
Guest

Akiknek bejött az élet – part 534.

Andras Giro-Szasz,the nerdy former head of Szazadveg, stróhman and cleptocrat is not only worth about almost a billion HUF (he was supposed to be a political scientist, a politilógus) is also heavily involved in a district 5 hotel project.Yes, that’s the land of Antal Rogan who is hobnobbing with feeble Germans assuring them that all is well in Hungary.

http://index.hu/belfold/2014/11/25/giro-szasz_hoteltulajdonos_lesz/

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

Thanks Éva for pointing out Orbán’s ilk have no clue about how an embassy is functioning. Do the ignoramuses really believe that they can do harm with their scribbling?
As a journalist observing Hungary from Vienna, I get the impression that Orbán & Co are in a catch 22 situation. If they give in, like in the case of internet tax they seem weak, if they continue their “war” against the whole world they certainly will lose.

buddy
Guest

Serrano makes a good point – the media is consciously making a bête noire out of Goodfriend in order to distract the public from what Orbán is doing, and since Gyurcsány has receded as a threat.

But I was hoping in this post that Eva would discuss an interesting comment from Remus yesterday, who posed that perhaps this “wishful thinking” that Goodfriend will be recalled on Dec. 1 is actually an indication of something more sinister: it gives the US an opportunity to recall him before Orbán declares him persona non grata.

On the one hand, it seems kind of outlandish to suppose that, but why else would the Fidesz media make such a bold prediction of Goodfriend leaving and risk looking foolish if they’re wrong? Plus, nothing surprises me in US-Hungarian relations anymore.

utassy
Guest

Dear Karl,

Why would they “lose” with such war against the world? Serrano has a point here, until Orban can remain in power and continue to do his shady deals how can he potentially lose?

Fighting against the fascists, the white colonialists, the jews, the out of control federal government, the EU, you name it (the symbol of everything bad), is a time-honored political method.

Orban will continue to fight the world (except for Russia of course) because Orban (A) just loves to fight, plus (B) he cannot be defeated from abroad. No dictator can be defeated from abroad absent drones. Orban has no downside in this game.

Webber
Guest

Eva – I don’t think they believe half of what they write. I think they know perfectly well that it’s all nonsense, and I think all that nonsense about Goodfriend is for domestic consumption, as are the rest of their lies. Recall – the whole Goodfriend affair was started by Fidesz via an article in Napi Gazdasag. I can only speculate that attempting to depict America as a bully (for excluding six Hungarians from visiting the US) was meant to soften the public and as an excuse for the turn toward Russia. The problem for Fidesz is not that they fundamentally misunderstand American politics – they couldn’t care less about American politics (or any foreign politics) – but that they are now so clearly out of touch with public opinion in Hungary.

utassy
Guest
@Webber I agree with much of what you say, but definitely not with the argument “they don’t really believe that, they just say it” to this or that audience. I don’t exclude that there are some savvier Fideszniks who know better, I can even imagine that some of them still feed the Americans using back channels saying oh, don’t worry, we just do it for political reasons for the masses, but of course we know the reality, and we’re still friends of the US. (Apart from the fact that real friends don’t behave that way) This assumption about the real intentions or thinking of Fideszniks is a perennial issue. Average, even more sophisticated voters thought (hoped) for the longest time that oh, Fidesz is just saying that, they don’t dare to do that, that wouldn’t be in their interest, no, that would be too much even from them, these are just the boys behaving a bit too aggressive, but they know it better… Time and again, these people were proven wrong. In addition, if you talk to voters of fidesz and supporters of the government, people in the government (perhaps not the English speakers with whom foreign observers tend to… Read more »
buddy
Guest

Webber – I think the government does indeed care about American politics. Otherwise, why would they have just hired an expensive former US Congressman to lobby US lawmakers on their behalf? (http://hvg.hu/itthon/20141124_Magyarorszag_visszacsap__beindul_a_magya) Not to mention the money they pay the American-Hungarian Federation and who knows how many other US-based NGOs set up by Fidesz to lobby on their behalf.

What I don’t understand is why they think lobbying the US government will be able to make up for these ugly attacks on US diplomats in the Hungarian media. I guess they think that different branches in the US government don’t talk to one another, or aren’t paying attention, or can’t read Hungarian, or that the Americans will believe that these media are “independent” of the government, etc. But the US is not that stupid, and Orbán can’t use the excuse “don’t pay attention to what I say to get elected” now.

I guess Fidesz’s only hope is to appeal to petty greed and use their lobbyists to pay off somebody influential in the US government to promote their interests… That’s always worked for them here in Hungary.

Member
I love Mr. Goodfriend’s involvement. Fidesz and their minions are in panic mode as finally a diplomat stirred up the pot. Today there will be another demonstration in Budapest. This time as Orban tries to steel the remaining millions from those people who did not allow this bully to take their retirement savings at the first round. Opposite to what the minions spread, Hungary is not doing so well economically, and Orban needs more money to make it look like all is great. THe money from the EU, the stolen millions from the previous retirement savings are all gone, and Lazar cannot put his paws on the money from Norway either…. As far as Pesti Sracok goes, I would really love if they would report on the connection of Orban and various murderers. For example how Orban hang out with soccer hooligans who were responsible for the 2006 riots, and paid the same people including a convicted murderer to harass, physically touch and intimidate peaceful demonstrators against Fidesz the last few years. I would also love to read about the connection between the axe murderer set free by Orban himself and the Azerii President who set the murderer free against… Read more »
Guest

It’s really difficult (actually impossible, for me at least) to understand the motivation of Fidesz.

Do they really believe “the West will fall” and the whole world will return to the dark Ages – which is what goes on in Russia, China, Turkey and the whole Muslim world – the age of Barbarism!

And will they be happy when this happens? Racism, blind believe in some religion, homophobia, women as second class people, slavery – you name it!

PS and not too much OT:

Have you read Erdogan’s latest remarks on America, the position of women etc – he might be a model for Orbán …

And to think that Orbán called himself a liberal once?

Tyrker
Guest

The fact that Esti Hírlap is still around was news to me.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

utassy, to believe, that Orbán would declare Goodfriend as persona non grata is one thing. Another thing is that such an unfriendly step would have grave consequences that would not help Orbán a bit.

utassy
Guest

Karl, yes, but, again, I contend that Fideszniks think that there can be no *really grave* consequences. Really grave not in the sense in which it would be grave to an Austrian politician, but to a wily Eastern European mafioso.

Grave consequences are only those which would actually prevent Orban (and his Strohmanner) from building South Stream, profiting from shady Russian gas deals, erecting Paks 2.

I have difficulty to imagine these consequences and so does he — absent perhaps sanctions similar to those which were issues against Putin and his coterie of oligarchs.

Even then Orban and his lawyers would get around those American sanctions easily (I assume the EU would not issue similar ones).

Foreigners tend to underestimate the staying power of dictators or the willingness of such dictators to do absolutely anything to stay in power. The EU doesn’t even dare to say out loud that Orban is a corrupt dictator, because that would be an open admission that it completely failed as a political entity.

googly
Guest
Utassy, You make good points, and you may be right about most of them, but when you write: ” he cannot be defeated from abroad. No dictator can be defeated from abroad absent drones”, you forget how the Soviet Union fell. Yes, there were people in the streets, but only at the end, after Gorbachev’s changes had made the system unsustainable. If the price of oil hadn’t stayed so low for so long (coincidence?) and the war in Afghanistan hadn’t sapped the budget so badly, we might be having a very different conversation about Hungary right now (or, more likely, none at all). Hungary is not the Soviet Union, and we are very susceptible to political and economic moves of other countries. If Hungary gets kicked out of the EU (or leaves), I doubt it would continue to be part of the European common market, and most of the German manufacturing (and probably most of the rest, including US, French, Austrian, etc.) jobs would leave, and Russia would be in no position to replace them. Hungarians have shown that they are not so patriotic that they would suffer widespread joblessness and poverty just for the principle of “sovereignty” from the… Read more »
3g
Guest
Istvan, you make a mistake in thinking that Republicans and Fidesz wouldn’t get along just fine. There isn’t a statue of Ronald Reagen in Budapest for nothing. Opinion about Russia is not something set in stone. There were many twists and turns in that relationship and if a Republican president is elected in 2016 there could be other turns by that time easily. Istvan if you think a change like this is impossible just look at Orban’s recent speeches. There was an Orban interview in Handelsblatt titled „Nähern uns Russland nicht an“ . This was probably expected or required from Germany / Merkel and so Orban gave in and starts giving interviews like this. He could easily make more such changes if a Republican president requests this from him. Orban respects Republicans above all else, he has several Republican strategists and advisers in his larger circle. Regarding the US the latest Orban speech was mentioning sentences that sound very similar to “American exceptionalism” – which Republicans just love. http://hungarytoday.hu/cikk/prime-minister-viktor-orban-speech-silver-jubilee-event-american-chamber-commerce-hungary-62820 Republicans would never attack Fidesz for mentioning Christianity in the constitution. For declaring that marriage is between one man and one woman, that life begins at conception and so on and… Read more »
Webber
Guest
@Buddy and Utassy – I also know some lunatics who are convinced (indeed, hope) that Spengler’s predictions on the fall of the West are about to come true. Those who haven’t met such people just have to watch Fidesz member Zsolt Bayer’s insane chat show, Hatterkep, on Echo T.V., or Ferenc Szaniszlo’s anti-American ravings on the same channel. I also agree that some of these people are in government, and have made policy at various points. My point only was that, with regard to Goodfriend and some other issues, “they” know they are lying. Obviously they know they are lying about Goodfriend – because they, and not Goodfriend, made the public aware of the affair through lies in Napi Gazdasag. Obviously, they knew the six names from the very start – about which they also lied. These lies are for domestic consumption. Another example of such lies was when, prior to the local elections, PM Orban and Finance M. Varga said that there would be no austerity program after the elections – indeed, that the opposition was dreaming when it said there would. Of course they knew that they would be introducing new taxes and cutting spending when they made… Read more »
Webber
Guest

@3g – you obviously don’t know many Republicans. Fidesz backing of Southstream, the concession to the Russians to construct nuclear reactors at Paks, stopping reverse transit of gas to Ukraine, and many other pro-Russian moves have outraged Republicans (just read the Washington Post), who are far more hawkish about Russia than Democrats. The Hungarian government’s nationalization of various companies and the takeover of private pension funds, taxing foreign corporations more than domestic ones, and massive corruption will also outrage Republicans. Indeed, Republicans are far more strongly against nationalization than Democrats. The inclusion of a former secret-police officer (Tasnadi) on the state security committee will outrage Republicans as much as, if not more than Democrats. Republicans, also, care about press freedoms, civil society, and a raft of other issues stressed by the Obama administration.
If Fidesz people think things are going to get easier with a Republican administration in Washington, that only shows (again) how little they understand American politics. As to Fidesz’s Republican friends – if there are any, they are completely insignificant. But where are they? Top Republican senators, too, have refused to meet Orban.

Istvan
Guest

3g the difference between President Regan’s time and now is significant. The basic doctrine of barátja az ellenségem ellensége az én applies I think. Russia and the Islamic state are now the enemies of the US and the Republicans like in their extreme anti-communism of the Cold War years will wip up hysteria over Russian Trojan Horses like Hungary.

Putin needs oil prices well over $100 a barrel to keep Russia’s Rosnoft, profitable. We are already significantly below that number; and since Russia gets more than half its revenues from oil and gas sales, the current fall in prices in both commodities world-wide spell big trouble for Putin’s big plans for expanding Russia’s military — and for the Russian economy. On top of just being a bad guy Putin can now through his public pronouncements be portrayed by Republicans as opposing the decline in the price of gas which American consumers very much enjoy. Yes Hungary’s efforts to prop up the Russian gas exporting will be another point of attack against Orban as our relations with Russia deteroiate.

termite
Guest

3g’s comments are a great example.

Fideszniks want desperately to hope, believe in something also, not just fidesz voters. That the GOP will protect them, that only they have to wait until 2016 and they’re saved.

And so they act accordingly: the peacock dance will continue (meanwhile the constriction projects are being built).

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