What can we learn about U.S.-Hungarian relations from János Lázár?

A huge sigh of relief. Viktor Orbán’s speech in Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad is not worth reporting on. Normally he tests out his latest vision for Hungary on this occasion, but this time there was nothing new in the speech. Although he shares the view of the Hungarian far-right that the current migration of masses of people from the Middle East and Africa resulted from the United States’ invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and its support of the Arab Spring and although his speech was full of ire against the migrants and those who are using Hungary as an entry point to the European Union, he refused to connect the present European situation to U.S. foreign policy after 9/11. It was a cautious speech and therefore rather dull.

Since I don’t have to waste time on the speech, I can return to yesterday’s topic, János Lázár’s outline of Hungary’s foreign intelligence, which deserves further scrutiny. In the first place, yesterday I couldn’t cover the very lengthy Q&A session, which is an integral part of the whole and without which the picture of the Orbán government’s thinking on foreign affairs is incomplete. Second, yesterday I simply summarized the main points of the testimony without analyzing them. And third, the questions posed by two members of the opposition are excellent examples of political incompetence and even subservience. They show how easy it is for Viktor Orbán to proceed unchecked.

Taking a larger view of the whole speech, including the Q&A period, one is struck by the almost total neglect of Russia, as Professor Charles Gáti in his comment to yesterday’s post rightly pointed out. By contrast, Lázár was preoccupied with the United States. Judging from his references to the U.S., relations between Hungary and the United States are much worse than one would suspect. After all, at the end of January the new U.S. ambassador, Colleen Bell, arrived in Hungary and at the same time a new Hungarian ambassador replaced the rather ineffectual György Szapáry in Washington. The Hungarian government expressed great hope that relations would improve as a result of these changes at the head of the missions.

Well, the differences of opinion between the two countries are not as visible as they were in the stormy autumn months during the tenure of André Goodfriend as chargé d’affaires. Colleen Bell has been smiling a lot. But judging from Lázár’s testimony, relations are frosty. In fact, Lázár used the occasion to send a message to the United States. The Americans must understand, he warned, that Hungary will not tolerate any interference in the country’s internal affairs. There are some countries where the U.S. ambassador acts like a conductor and legislators play the music accordingly. He was most likely thinking of Romania. Well, Hungary is not one of these countries. Lázár admits that this is not “a friendly message,” but this is how it is. He also pointed out that the extensive personnel changes at the foreign ministry were intended “to break personal connections going back thirty years, which worked very well when it came to foreign interests but less so when it involved Hungarian interests.” His message: “this world is coming to an end now.”

Hungarian suspicion of the United States was manifest in the discussion of the alleged harassment of the Hungarian minority in Romania. A careful reading of these passages indicates that the Orbán government suspects that the United States actually encourages the Romanian authorities to act against ethnic Hungarians and against the two main Hungarian denominations: the Catholic and Hungarian Reformed churches.

U.S.-Hungarian relations also came up when Lázár answered a question from Ádám Mirkóczki (Jobbik) about the United States’ intention to send heavy armaments to East-Central Europe and to establish military bases in the region. Mirkóczki wanted to know whether Hungarian intelligence looked into the effect of such an American move on Russian policy. Lázár adopted the well-known Hungarian position of sitting on the fence when it comes to the conflict between Russia and the West, but he added something significant. In a sarcastic tone, he pointed out that “the United States has not favored us with special attention concerning military cooperation with us…. The close cooperation between the United States and Poland and between Romania and the United States is well known. We didn’t get such serious offers or requests. However, we continually weigh the pros and cons of heavy armaments appearing in Central Europe and try to decide how much the presence of such armaments worsens or improves the situation.” When this answer was given, the Hungarian government was most likely already engaged in negotiations over a heavy armament shipment to Hungary.

The national security committee has seven members, three of whom are from opposition parties: the chairman, Zsolt Molnár (MSZP), Bernadett Szél (LMP), and Ádám Mirkóczky (Jobbik). I already summarized Mirkóczky’s question, which was one of the more intelligent ones. After all, Jobbik is a pro-Russian party, and his question had relevance to Jobbik’s views on Russian-U.S. relations.

Bernadett Szél and Zsolt Molnár

Bernadett Szél and Zsolt Molnár

Unfortunately, the performances of Szél and Molnár were less than sterling. Initially, Szél came up with three not very important questions, mostly on issues of domestic importance, that had nothing to do with the topics covered. Lázár’s lengthy answers took up an inordinate amount of time that would have been better spent on questions that actually had something to do with his prepared remarks. But then, as an afterthought, Szél asked a question that showed the affinity between LMP and Lázár when it comes to free trade. LMP is an anti-globalist party with strong anti-capitalist overtones. In addition, they are no friends of the United States. So they are dead set against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a proposed free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States. In addition, LMP styles itself as a green party, so it decries the use of chemicals in the production of food as well as any methods of handling food that may be harmful to “the Hungarian people.” She wanted to know “how can the Hungarian government, on the one hand, speak loudly about national sovereignty and, on the other, take part in a game that is obviously against the welfare of the Hungarian people.” From Lázár’s answer we learned that there are differences of opinion within Fidesz on the subject of TTIP and that Lázár’s opinion is actually very close to Szél’s.

Then came Chairman Zsolt Molnár (MSZP), who is suspected of being a bit too close to Fidesz. Molnár, like Szél, strayed from the topic at hand and kept talking about capital punishment. He wanted to have an assurance that the question is no longer on the table. But even here the two men found common ground. The Orbán government at the moment is fighting with the European Court of Human Rights over life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The court considers “actual life-imprisonment” inhumane. The Hungarian government thinks it is necessary. Molnár also likes the idea of locking up people for good. Molnár and Lázár also agreed that Hungary’s sending a small contingent to Kurdistan will increase the threat of terrorist attacks on the country. His tentative question on the usefulness of the fence to be built on the Serbian-Hungarian border was answered with the same propaganda one can read everywhere on billboards and was accepted at face value.

Is it any wonder that people hoping for a change in the country don’t trust the current leaders of the democratic opposition?

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Webber
Guest

A detail – being opposed to TTIP is in no way anti-American. Many patriotic Americans, also, feel the proposed treaty as now written should be opposed. Witness Senator Elizabeth Warren (Dem.) and colleagues’ criticism of the treaty:
http://www.vox.com/2015/5/7/8561797/ttip-dodd-frank
Also see Warren’s critique of the TPP, many of which also apply to the TTIP
https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/kill-the-dispute-settlement-language-in-the-trans-pacific-partnership/2015/02/25/ec7705a2-bd1e-11e4-b274-e5209a3bc9a9_story.html

Member

Wind and Mill

The Hungarian democratic opposition does deserve to be defended against sanctimonious defeatism. They do need constructive support, considering the enormous and unprecedented mediatic, financial, “legal” and “constitutional” handicaps under which they have no choice but to try to make their way.

But LMP’s blinkered self-righteousness and MSzP’s sell-outs and somnambulism really do try well-wishers’ patience…

Member

Bottom-Feeders

Thank goodness that in the (somewhat more) civilized world, the Pannonian penchant appeals only to the bottom tail of the normal curve:

“Racism and xenophobia are exactly why Republicans love Donald Trump, polls show”comment image

Webber
Guest

Spot on (and in complete agreement with Newt Gingrich’s analysis of problems within the Republican Party). If Trump wins the Republican nomination, whoever is the Democrats’ candidate will have an easy ride into the White House. I suspect, however, that Trump will be wiped out at the primaries. By whom, I cannot say. The Republicans have a real chance to take the White House if they find an eloquent, center-r. candidate.

spectator
Guest

Well, the hairdo speaks volumes, all by itself..!
The rest only underscores all of that.

“Le style est l’ homme même.”

ER1956
Guest

Similarities:

Obama and Orban have got similar easy rides, with a weak competition from their own parties, and with weak resistance from their opposition blocks.

Both manage to ignore the decency of their nations.

Seemingly, Finkelstein and Axelrod practice the same witchcraft with equal hefty budgets.

Webber
Guest

There is no similarity at all. Obama cannot run again, because of term limits. His time in office is coming to an end.
“Weak competition from their own parties”???
Do you mean the Democrats gave Obama weak competition? Or do you mean that the Republicans gave him weak competition (John McCain, weak competition? Really?)
Also, of the bi-cameral American legislature, Obama faces a House that is majority Republican and therefor must work with the opposition (not to mention the unshaken power of the Supreme Court).
This is simply impossible in the Hungarian system – the government always controls the legislature in Hungary.
Finally , you said- “both ignore the decency of their nations”
You lost me entirely here. I’m no fan of Obama’s, but to compare him with Orban is lunacy – you are either overstating Obama’s faults, or understating Orban’s destruction of democratic checks and balances.

ER1956
Guest

Webber,

In money management, Obama has got no competition.
More money disappeared under Obama than under any other presidents.
Tappanch may find those numbers.

I think that the definition, “the violation of national decency” is a good characterization of both regimes.

Webber
Guest

“More money disappeared under Obama than under any other presidents.”
You are in for a surprise. Just look into how much money disappeared in Iraq + Afghanistan during G.W. Bush jr.’s tenure. The figures are public – it was the subject of Senate hearings – $60 bn. in waste and fraud, according to one conservative estimate.
http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-News/2011/0901/US-commission-finds-widespread-waste-and-corruption-in-wartime-contracts

ER1956
Guest

As vs. 8 trillion

Webber
Guest

??
Faux News?

Guest
Lazar’s message: “this world is coming to an end now” I’d think he is taking note that it is occurring in more ways than one. Not surprised at the Hungarian reaction to the US ‘position’. I can only think that the reason the government has donned boxing gloves towards the latter is to simply keep some maneuvering room in the cunning political arena there. At this time I’m afraid the US has to take the punches and possibly take the old Ali ‘rope-a-dope’ strategy (very successful btw!) to tire out the government which I’d suggest is fighting from deep weakness. They can’t have the legs unless Vlad steps in from his corner. Orban and his gang love power and have a deep seated need to ‘control’ everything that occurs in the country. Same mind set that’s off to the East. Looks to be the Magyar Zeitgeist where all things ‘Western” are poisonous and deemed insidious and things Russian look to be oh so ostensibly ‘fraternal’ and cooperative. Such esteemed seemingly deep deep love is breaking some hearts notably mine…;-)….. What Orban probably doesn’t know is Vlad is giving him heart-shaped chocolates with hidden razor blades….;-)….. I don’t know if Putin… Read more »
Webber
Guest

Those words are “punches” that the US doesn’t even – shouldn’t even – notice. They are, obviously, for domestic consumption in Hungary.
A note at the edge of the file saying “somewhat hostile to the US” is all that sort of thing would evoke.
Actions are what Washington is most interested in. What is the Hungarian government actually doing? is the perennial question.

Guest

Re” “What is the Hungarian government actually doing? is the perennial question”

No doubt like all states trying to play to its ‘advantages’ in a situation. Orban wants to balance his legs in a couple of camps. You’re correct the US can take the punches. What I don’t appreciate is this arrogance of power. Have to say I’m still processing that quip on ‘democracy is bullshit’ business. When that was said, I woud have liked the ambassador to perhaps come back with a witty retort if she didn’t want to actually ‘get in his face’. Sticks in my craw like an itch that won’t go away. He means it, of course, and that’s why we see Hungary acting as it does.

Webber
Guest

Those words – ‘democracy is bullshit’ – nauseate every decent person who cares about Hungary. The (former) ambassador recorded them, repeated them, and published them in her book. That, I believe, is the best and most correct thing she could have done. After all, ambassadors are just ciphers – they don’t make policy. Historians will repeat those words of Orban’s. Thanks to the ambassador, they are indelibly engraved on the historical record.

ER1956
Guest

Eleni’s ghost writer has tried hard to find praises for the Orban regime.
Eleni should be asked about the ghost writer’s identity.

Webber
Guest

Have I missed something? Where did you read praises in the book?

spectator
Guest
Oh, but Orbán’s speech worth mentioning, Eva! If nothing else for, the Fearless Leader once again proved himself being an ignorant, self centered little twit. Those expressions and arguments what he used just crying for publicity – in order to show to the world, just who Viktor Orbán really is! Just wonderful! As we all learned from the speech – “straight from the mouth of the”…well, never mind,- about the politicians of the opposition, “..These people, these politicians quite simply don’t like the Hungarians, and don’t like them, because they are Hungarians” (!) I hope, everyone but me can follow the crystal-clear logic, I failed miserably. Furthermore, we won’t let anybody come in the country, because “…from the huge crowd we can not filter out the enemy terrorists” (I must add, not even the friendly ones..!) Not to mention, that “Because of the immigrants Sweden has the second highest rate of rape in the World, right after Lesotho” and you can guess, who those rapists are..! At least someone is in the know, because the Swedes certainly isn’t. In Sweden any kind of ethnic reference strictly forbidden since 2005, and yes, even for statistical purposes. Let alone that the definition… Read more »
spectator
Guest

Is anybody interested?
Is anybody truly interested of the (summary of the) Orbán’s speech?

On his official side already appeared the ‘essence’ in English too!
Otherwise I really look forward to read the whole masterpiece, – it really worth to have, as proof!
So, here we are:

http://www.miniszterelnok.hu/in_english_article/europe_is_at_stake_today

Guest

Yes, a masterly piece of BS – funny in a way, but totally crazy imho!
The translation also has a strange feel – doesn’t sound “English” to me (but of course I’m not a native speaker).
What do the “real English” (or Americans) here think about this?

spectator
Guest

Wolfi, I put the words word by word – in order to be able to treat the shit in it’s place.
Intentionally, so to speak.

Personally I think that translating it to the proper English equivalent – or thereabout – won’t give back the sheer inadequate stupidity of the original.

It’s mostly word by word -from the leader, that’s it!

Guest

Re: the ‘speech’

I’d say the Magyar ‘Kiraly’ has spoken from the battlements of his castellated abbey. He reminds me of Poe’s Prince Prospero who had all from his dominion within. And without was the pestilence of the ‘Red Death’ devastating the lands. The Hungarian portcullis looks to be drawn shut and the broad moat is full of alligators. Hungary isn’t living in the 21st. Really it’s more like the medieval.

Guest

Regarding my comment above. I think my post heralded back to my great visit to Visegrad on the Danube bend many moons ago. Such fine ground. At the time (late 70’s) I don’t believe the ruins were taken care of as they are today. The stones and rocks of the palace were simply tumbling over into piles of rubble. And we were mostly by ourselves. There were hardly any visitors.

But I was still mesmerized that I was actually walking on the stones that caught the shadows of the great Magyar kings. I will never forget the ancient atmosphere as I felt the ‘gravitas’ of those great kings who ruled the Magyar kingdom. And I’d suggest the centuries have indeed removed that fine quality from Hungarian political life. Sad to say it looks like they’ve lost it.

ER1956
Guest

This blog attracts many intelligent readers.

Almost all can see that Orban is a danger.

The same readers can hardly see that Obama is also a danger.

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