Viktor Orbán goes to Kiev, M. André Goodfriend returns to Washington

Viktor Orbán has been a very busy man lately, especially when it comes to playing on the international stage. Angela Merkel visited Budapest last week; this week Orbán had talks with the prime minister of Georgia, and today he traveled to Kiev for a brief visit with Petro Poroshenko. Orbán’s Ukrainian visit is widely seen as an attempt to counterbalance the much criticized Putin visit next Tuesday. Today much of his regularly scheduled morning interview was devoted to Russian and Ukrainian affairs.

There is still no verbatim transcript of the interview, but I took notes when I listened to it and read several summaries that appeared in Hungarian newspapers and on the government’s website. Some of his comments on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict were platitudes about the dangers of war so close to home. Surely, Hungary is much more exposed than France or Germany, whose heads of state tried to broker an agreement with Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Orbán, who remains opposed to further sanctions, tried to put the best spin on the “fragile peace” that is still better than war.

When it came to Russian-Hungarian relations, Orbán treaded lightly and felt compelled to refer to Hungarian leeriness when it comes to relations with Russia. Mind you, the reference was fleeting. He said that “for many Hungarians this is an emotional issue.” One would have thought that either he would have stopped there or would have explained Hungarian reservations by talking about the role of the Russians in the 1848-1849 war of independence and, naturally, about the Russian suppression of the 1956 Hungarian revolution. But no, he said instead that “we lost a war against them,” referring to World War II. A most unfortunate remark since winning the war against the Soviet Union in this case would have meant victory for Nazi Germany. Magyar Nemzet might be moving in the right direction as far as honest journalism is concerned, but it decided to omit this sentence.

In his opinion, emotions cannot play a role in Hungary’s relations with Russia. He himself never had any doubts about Vladimir Putin’s  visit. It was he who invited Putin, and he is glad that Putin accepted his invitation. The Russian president is always welcome in the Hungarian capital.

It is becoming apparent to me that Viktor Orbán imagines today’s Europe as similar to the way it was between the two world wars. The simultaneous collapse of the large, powerful empires of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia allowed the formation of small nation states in the region of East-Central Europe. With the revival of Germany and Russia, these states found themselves squeezed between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Orbán keeps talking about the “two large powers,” Russia and Germany, on whom Hungary depends for its well being. But this is an outdated view. Today there is a European Union to which Hungary belongs. Hungary also joined NATO. Hungary is definitely committed to the West and her security lies on this side. Balancing between two world powers is no longer possible, and therefore I’m convinced that Orbán’s “brilliant” strategy will be a failure.

Orbán’s diplomatic balancing act leads me to another topic, the departure of M. André Goodfriend from Budapest. The announcement was a surprise because the United States government had explicitly stated that Goodfriend would remain in Budapest even after the arrival of Colleen Bell, the new U.S. ambassador. The chargé represented U.S. policies and worked closely with the State Department. It was a message to Budapest that no great changes in U.S.-Hungarian relations should be expected with the arrival of the new ambassador. But then came the bombshell that after all Goodfriend is leaving “for strictly family reasons.” Hungarians suspect that this explanation was fabricated, that some kind of a deal was reached between Washington and Budapest for which the U.S. government sacrificed Goodfriend.

Well, I’m one of those people who don’t believe this conspiracy theory. First of all, the one longer speech that Colleen Bell delivered to date in no way indicated a softening of the American attitude toward the Hungarian government. The speech was delivered before businessmen, and therefore she concentrated on economic issues. She brought up a point about which foreign businessmen complain: the unpredictability of Hungarian economic policy. Second, I see no sign of any softening of Orbán’s attitude either on the Russian issue or on the question of corruption. As for the attacks on nongovernmental organizations, the verbal abuse continues. If there was a deal, it was one that the Hungarian side is not honoring. And I refuse to believe that American diplomats are so naive as to strike a deal before the other side takes concrete steps to mend its ways. So, I’m inclined to accept the Embassy’s version that Mr. Goodfriend has some very urgent family business that can be taken care of only in the United States.

Goodfriend3

André Goodfriend’s departure is greeted with great sadness in liberal circles in Hungary. Many looked upon him as a valued friend of Hungary and were extremely grateful to him. On Facebook there are thousands of posts in which Hungarian citizens thank him for being the defender of Hungarian democracy. I heard a story about one gesture that exemplifies the kind of gratitude Hungarians felt. It was Christmas Eve and André Goodfriend went to a flower shop to buy a bouquet. When he wanted to pay, the owner of the flower shop wouldn’t accept his money, saying that it is she who owes him instead of the other way around.

Perhaps the most moving manifestation of the affection felt for André Goodfriend in Hungary is a video sent by Kreatív Ellenállás (Creative Opposition), a Facebook group, to which the creators added a popular song entitled “André j’aime” composed by János Bródy, played by the Illés Ensemble and sung by Zsuzsa Koncz. These people are legends in Hungarian popular music, mainly because their songs were highly critical of the Kádár regime.

Finally, Mr. Goodfriend was a regular reader of Hungarian Spectrum and a few times even engaged in our discussions. We will miss him, and I’m sure I can speak on behalf of our readership in wishing him the very best in his future endeavors.

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Member

I fervently hope that this remarkably intelligent, skillful, sensitive, wise and honorable American diplomat will be rewarded with a prominent and important new position — e.g. Berlin, Brussels, Moscow — in recognition of his outstanding service in Budapest. His accomplishments in Hungary are historic ones. Their knock-on effects will still be making themselves felt for years to come. Adieu André; if it weren’t such an inconsequential post I would wish your next assignment to be here in Ottawa! (Not that US/Canadian relations could not benefit from your urbane touch.)

tappanch
Guest

Mr Goodfriend’s recall is a blunder on the part of the Obama administration and a blow to those who wish to restore democracy and freedom in Hungary.

Member

Andre Goodfriend was the best thing that happened to Hungary in the last year also. His understanding of the Hungarian situation was exemplary as well as his quest to get to know Hungary. He is one of the finest diplomats, and from whom the Hungarian political system’s many clowns should take lessons from. Mr. Goodfriend, if you read this: Thank you!

tappanch
Guest

Revenge of the dictator:

The head of the “State Property Administration” (Magyar Nemzeti Vagyonkezelő, MNV), who is close to Simicska’s circles, was fired exactly one week after Simicska’s anti-Orban public outburst.

http://www.kormany.hu/hu/nemzeti-fejlesztesi-miniszterium/vagyonpolitikaert-felelos-allamtitkarsag/hirek/vezetovaltas-a-magyar-nemzeti-vagyonkezelonel

tappanch
Guest

The European Union approved an additional 18.7 billion euros to prop up the Orban regime in the 2014-2020 period on February 13.

http://www.portfolio.hu/unios_forrasok/gazdasagfejlesztes/itt_a_nagy_hir_dolhetnek_az_unios_milliardok.2.210205.html

tappanch
Guest

The Orban government has bought “Budapest Bank” from GE Capital for an undisclosed sum.

http://www.portfolio.hu/finanszirozas/bankok/alairtak_az_allame_a_budapest_bank.1.210208.html

Steve
Guest

Finally, Goodfried leaves.

He was in Syria before, probably had high hopes for his next appointment, and
expected similar “success”. Did not work out 😉

krisztián
Guest
It was Népszabadsag which broke the news that Goodfriend was leaving and immediately the short article contained that it was for family-related reasons. It was a very short article. My assumption is that the info was leaked strategically by the Americans. Népszabadsag has a long history of supporting the US or specifically diplomats of the US (I’m not entirely convinced that its journalists are so pro-American, but for some reason some people in the editorial room would like to provide favors to the US and remain on good term with the diplomats), happily providing space for interviews if asked for and so on. Also Népszabadsaág is read by readers who could have been expected to be somewhat upset and smell a “deal” with Orban. Népszabadság was luckily also very polite and and did not inquire further, it was fully satisfied with writing down the fact itself (that he was leaving for family-related reasons) because as we know if the US government says something than it must be so, it’s gospel. If the US wanted to prevent a real leak (knowing that the leaving was obviously to become public) it had to do it on its own terms (not unlike ho… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

Unexplained deaths of inconvenient people to the regime since 2010:

http://atlatszo.hu/2015/02/13/miattuk-retteg-simicska-rejtelyes-halalesetek-hihetetlen-magyarazatok/

tinshed (@tinshed)
Guest

Like many here I too will miss Mr Goodfriend and his observations and comments about Hungary. He seemed to possess warmth, sincerity and a keen intelligence, even though I could only observe him via social media. I remember the photo he took at the Kádár Étkezde (Eatery) in the VII District. Clearly a man of taste and discernment to eat at such a wonderful restaurant! Definitely a loss to those here who care about Hungary. Good luck to him in whatever the future holds for him.

An
Guest

Well, “leaving for family reasons” is such a standard cliche given when people are abruptly removed that I have hard time believing that this is the reason for Mr. Goodfriend’s departure. I don’t think there was a deal with Orban, either. But I think it signals that the American government is planning to appear less confrontational with Orban, and perhaps they thought Mr. Goodfriend became too much of a liability. It is truly a shame ..I have a lot of respect for Mr. Goodfriend; he is an excellent diplomat. His removal is a huge mistake.

koeszmeod
Guest
Other Topic: Please remember Nadiya Savchenko on Monday in Budapest! Like and share on facebook. https://www.facebook.com/budapestforsavchenko Read Senate Resolution here S.RES.52 A resolution calling for the release of Ukrainian fighter pilot Nadiya Savchenko, who was captured by Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine and has been held illegally in a Russian prison since July 2014. Sponsor: Sen Cardin, Benjamin L. [MD] (introduced 1/28/2015) Cosponsors (4) Related Bills: H.RES.50 Latest Major Action: 2/12/2015 Passed/agreed to in Senate CALLING FOR THE RELEASE OF UKRAINIAN FIGHTER PILOT NADIYA SAVCHENKO — (Senate – February 12, 2015) [Page: S1010] — Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Foreign Relations Committee be discharged from further consideration of S. Res. 52 and the Senate proceed to its immediate consideration. The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered. The clerk will report the resolution by title. The assistant legislative clerk read as follows: A resolution (S. Res. 52) calling for the release of Ukrainian fighter pilot Nadiya Savchenko, who was captured by Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine and has been held illegally in a Russian prison since July 2014. There being no objection, the Senate proceeded to consider the resolution. Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, I… Read more »
Member
buddy
Guest
krisztián- “I think even if there was a personal reason involved the US government must have insisted him staying in Budapest regardless just to make it clear to everyone that there was no deal and that there can be no favors made to Orban.” Um, I’m not sure what you’ve been smoking my friend, but I can guarantee you that the US does not operate in the way you outlined above. Diplomats in the US are ordinary government employees, not slaves: if a diplomat does indeed have an urgent family reason to return to the US – as you postulated above – then of course he/she will go back. A two-bit leader like Orbán in a small, non-strategic country for the US is not enough to change this reality. I’m sorry to tell you that Hungarian domestic political considerations are not nearly as important to the US State Department as you would like to think they are. I think instead you’ve swallowed the Orbánistic nationalist propaganda of “we’re in the heart of Europe, we’re so important to the rest of the world, etc.” Sorry, but it’s not true. How about this: it’s entirely possible that Mr. Goodfriend’s departure HAS NOTHING… Read more »
Magilla
Guest
Fidesz always had this modus operandi. I would even wager that Peter Szijjarto himself asked for André Goodfriend’s removal in Washington. http://index.hu/belfold/kekkapstot04/ Just one example. In this article it is revealed that Orban didn’t like the idea that the French Government wanted to bestow the legion d’honneur decoration onto Peter Medegyessy, so Orban used Hungary’s ambassador to France to try to prevent that. Why? Just because Orban didn’t like Medgyessy. Orban is known to be extremely vindictive and paranoid and receiving enjoyment from mean actions. If Goodfriend was meeting with Agnes Heller or Laszlo Bito in private that meant a total loss of confidence for Orban, Kövér etc. (Plus “Fidesz is of course not an antisemite party, but can the nemzeti and polgári government really trust a Jew to be unbiassed?”) It is perfectly normal for Fidesz to try to get local managers of foreign multinational corporations fired if they aren’t getting Fidesz drift (to sponsor fidesznik football teams, to use suggested companies for advertising etc.). And I am sure Orban thought that he cannot any longer tolerate Goodfriend and he shouldn’t have to. Even if Orban is a corrupt, paranoid, ge*i in diplomacy if the receiving head of state… Read more »
Guest

My hope is that Mr Goodfriend will get a job where he does oversee Central Europe (which includes Hungary …) and then, if the Republicans should win the election and we get a Republican POTUS – that Victoria Nuland will be his boss as secretary of state!
That might teach Fidesz a lesson.
PS:
I’d rather have a Democrat as the next POTUS (sorry, Istvan), but I’m a realist – just hope that it doesn’t get to be Jeb Bush …

Webber
Guest

There’s lots of wild guessing going on throughout the Hungarian government media about why Goodfriend is leaving. I find it distasteful, and I’ll explain why by putting in my 2 cents:
There could be a serious health problem in Goodfriend’s immediate family (cancer, leukemia, you name it – wife, child, whoever). Treatment for any serious illness would be in the US.

Gleeful speculation of the sort that I saw yesterday on Hír t.v.’s “csörte” show is disgusting.

Guest

Some comments deal with the question: “Who managed to get Goodfriend called back?” but they failed to ask: “Où est la femme?”. Even a female leader may dislike beeing outshined by her second in command.

Webber
Guest

@Magilla – If my child or wife were severely ill and needed treatment in the U.S., I personally would drop my job overseas. Goodfriend is not in the army. He can resign or take a leave of absence for serious personal reasons any time he wants to. The State Department surely wants people who can concentrate on their jobs.

There’s one more possibility that doesn’t seem to have occurred to the dippy századvég pundits out there:
Goodfriend himself could be ill. Announcing that it’s a family illness is perfectly honorable.

All this condemnation and speculation is really, really revolting.

Webber
Guest

@Jean P. – that was a very distasteful comment.

Super Techtune
Guest
Member

I sincerely hope, André Goodfriend can remain diplomatically still Hungary’s Goodfriend. I wish him the best!

petofi
Guest

One must ask: whom does Time serve?

It’s obvious that, with time, the Russian ruble/economic situation, and that of Hungary’s economic situation, deteriorates. Some ‘give’ by the US is the refined play of allowing the element of
Time to wreck its havoc with these medieval states…

Guest

@webber

What do you make of buddy´s comment?

buddy: ”Here’s my personal theory (which is pure speculation but as good as any): Mr. Goodfriend spent a few weeks with Ambassador Bell, realized he didn’t like her and called Foggy Bottom and said, “Get me out of here, I can’t work with this lady.”

Observing good taste should never be an obstacle to discussing public matters.

Webber
Guest

@Jean P. –
My reaction is the same – that is distasteful and very wild. It has a place in a bar, after three drinks.
If someone wanted to make it more distasteful and overtly sexist, they might make comments about the new ambassador’s appearance, with a loud belch afterwards.

Webber
Guest

I don’t know what happens if you click on Super Techtune’s link, but would strongly advise people here not to click on such links if they are looking at this from their personal computers.
If you must try this link out, I suggest you do so on a public computer – in a library or elsewhere.
Super Techtune – sorry. Your link might be benign for all I know, but I’ve been burnt in the past by this sort of thing.

buddy
Guest

Well I sincerely apologize for my distasteful speculative comment, and if I offended anyone with it.

But since we’re playing this game, let me also state the following:
I personally find it distasteful and revolting that Webber is speculating on the possibility that Mr. Goodfriend is ill, or that his child or wife is “severely ill.” I would not have said anything so ghoulish as that.

Such speculation has a place in a bar, after three drinks…

Member

BUDDY & OTHERS: This is NOT A GAME here.
This is an excellent blog with mostly Hungarian and European politics, which I am sure, all readers noticed.
Those who want to play, should go to a playground.

buddy
Guest

“Game” is just a metaphor, of course.

My point is that condemnation and finger-wagging go both ways, but we rarely think that it can be applied to us as well as others.

Well, enough of this already.

buddy
Guest

ps. Next time I will have to use the non-female specific term “person” instead of “lady,” as certain people apparently read an underlying sexism in my comment that was never intended. I apologize again for the confusion.

Jon Van Til
Guest

I am heartened by the observation that Andre Goodfriend is also a reader of this excellent blog. While I had hoped to meet him during his service in Hungary, I am very happy that we will continue to share this link through Eva and her stalwart work.

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