A one-year-old American non-paper surfaces

For almost eight months there was hardly any news about U.S.-Hungarian relations in the Hungarian media, with the exception of stories about NATO troop deployment in Eastern Europe and a U.S.-Hungarian military maneuver that went off without a hitch. In military matters at least, all seems to be well between Washington and Budapest.

In political terms, the stormy relations of the fall of 2014 have quieted down considerably. At least on the surface. The new U.S. ambassador, Colleen Bell, has shown no inclination to roil the waters of U.S.-Hungarian relations despite Viktor Orbán’s occasional anti-American comments in connection with the alleged responsibility of the United States for the refugee crisis.

The prime minister’s more subtle criticism contrasts with the shrill anti-Americanism of the pro-government media. In earlier days it was Magyar Nemzet that led the way in this respect, but since Lajos Simicska and Viktor Orbán decided that their collaboration of a quarter of a century is over and the remaining staff of the paper no longer has to adopt a slavishly pro-government orientation, not only has Magyar Nemzet become a very much better paper but it has also abandoned its pro-Russian and anti-American slant.

There are still some government strongholds, however, especially the newly renamed Magyar Idők and Pesti Srácok. Here and there even Válasz and Mandiner come out with decidedly anti-American editorials, mostly in connection with the refugee crisis, which is usually portrayed as the direct consequence of U.S. meddling in the Middle East and North Africa.

After almost a year of relative calm Mandiner managed to get hold of a so-called non-paper prepared by the State Department, dated October 21, 2014. András Stumpf, the new star reporter of Mandiner, didn’t research his story thoroughly enough because otherwise he would have discovered that this non-paper was most likely handed to Péter Szijjártó himself during his meeting with Viktoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs. At least the dates match. So, all the talk that has appeared in the last few days in the Hungarian media about Chargé D’Affaires André Goodfriend’s “demands” handed to one of the diplomats in the Hungarian foreign ministry is a lot of nonsense. The “suggestions” or “demands,” as the pro-government media calls them, don’t contain any new revelations. It has been no secret what the United States thinks of the Orbán government’s anti-democratic policies. It also seems that, although a whole year has gone by, the Hungarian government hasn’t responded to any of the points made in the non-paper. Viktor Orbán has no intention of changing his undemocratic ways.

These two pictures accompanied a Romanian-language article published on October 27, 2014 Source: dcnews.ro

These two pictures accompanied a Romanian-language article published on 10/27/2014, a few days after the meeting between Victoria Nuland and Péter Szijjártó
Source: dcnews.ro

Stumpf indicates in his introduction to the document that they “learned about the existence of the document from a Washington source,” which was then confirmed by someone in Budapest. Most likely the Americans had had enough of the deafening silence from Budapest and decided to make the document, handed to Szijjártó a year ago, public.

There is nothing wrong about publishing such a document. In fact, I personally wish there were more such diplomatic revelations, but Stumpf’s or the editor’s decision to write a strongly anti-American headline is unfortunate. It reads: “This is how America would make the Orbán government its bitch” (Így csicskáztatná Amerika az Orbán-kormányt). The message is that because of the Orbán government’s steadfast refusal to oblige, the United States didn’t succeed in its attempt to curtail the country’s sovereignty.

Magyar Idők went even further. In its interpretation, the United States’ problem is that Hungary’s prime minister happens to be Viktor Orbán. Magyar Idők names André Goodfriend as the author and deliverer of the non-paper in question. In the view of the paper, Goodfriend was not at all concerned with the alleged corruption of Hungarian government officials because this non-paper didn’t deal with it. Written in the middle of the “corruption crisis,” the absence of the topic is telling. Ottó Gajdics, the editor-in-chief of the paper, also wrote an editorial. He pretty well denied the existence of any corruption in Hungary and accused the United States of being worried about “corruption only when no American interests prevail in a country.”

Válasz also chimed in, heralding the wonderful news that the Orbán government didn’t fall last October and November, although many people believed that it would because of strong U.S. pressure on the Orbán government. In the author’s opinion, the United States “got caught” (lebukott) with the publication of the non-paper.  It never occurred to him that officials in the U.S. State Department might have wanted to make the document public.

János Lázár, who is naturally a diligent reader of Magyar Idők and other pro-government papers, is convinced that this list came from an ordinary chargé d’affaires, whom he called “insolent.” According to Lázár, Goodfriend while he was in Hungary “used his time to poke his nose into the affairs of Hungary.” His spokesman, András Giró Szász, added that “André Goodfriend is always welcome in Hungary but only as a tourist.” Lázár is either ignorant of diplomatic protocol or, more likely, wants to minimize the weight of this non-paper.

Meanwhile, Népszabadság tried to set the record straight by pointing out that on October 22 Péter Szijjártó was in Washington and had a meeting with Victoria Nuland. It is a mistake to name André Goodfriend as the culprit. The non-paper was most likely handed to Szijjártó by Nuland herself.

The debate continues. This time between Zsolt Gréczy, spokesman for the Demokratikus Koalíció, and András Stumpf, the Mandiner reporter. Gréczy raised objections to the title of Stumpf’s article. In DK’s opinion, “it is difficult to criticize the contents of those 27 points the non-paper raises, which are exactly those that the Hungarian democratic opposition demands week after week.” Unlike me, Gréczy believes that the non-paper was made public by the Hungarian government. With its release it intended to incite anti-American feelings. He called on the government to cease and desist. Stumpf answered with ad hominem attacks on Gréczy. Otherwise, he denied the charge that the document came from the government.

And finally, here is the infamous non-paper:

Civil society:

– End harassment and intimidation of independent civil society, including by ceasing investigations, audits, and raids of organizations receiving European Economic Area-Norway grant funds and Swiss funds, returning seized documents and IT-equipment (and other seized property) to reided and audited organizations, and immediately reinstating suspended tax licenses.

– Publish online all information of KEHI audits and government investigations of NGOs in order to make it available to the public.

– Publicly promote civil society, human rights, checks and balances, and unrestricted space for political opposition.

– Allow civil society to operate freely and independently.

– Broaden incentives for private and corporate donations to NGOs.

– Require meaningful input from an inclusive sprectrum of civil society and the business community in public policy development and implementation, including on human rights, equality, and transparency in government.

– Ensure unbiased and transparent functioning of National Cooperation Fund with nonpartisan board and clear guidelines for grants and evaluations.

Inclusiveness – give opposition and other non-Fidesz loyalists a role in public policy (enhances checks and balances):

– Require oversight bodies to be made up of independent subject matter experts rather than political nominees, and that a certain number of slots be reserved for appointment by opposition.

– Constitutional Court appointment process should revert to pre-2010 ad hoc committee requiring agreement of two-thirds of the parties.

– Implement clearly defined and transparent procedures requiring issues of public interest to be addressed through meaningful consultation and input from all relevant experts and stakeholders.

– Legislative process: Build in hearings, debates, meaningful consultations with subject experts and civil society, and opportunities for amendments.

– Pass law that ensures long-term economic commitments and other matters of public interest are decided with transparency, substantive public input, and realistic opportunity and sufficient time for open debate and feedback.

Media:

– Rescind advertising tax, which is discriminatory and market-distorting.

– Require that state advertising budget be distributed evenly across major media outlets rather than to outlets aligned with the government party.

– Require all-party representation on media council and shorten terms.

– Amend legislation on criminal penalties for libel, including to rescind all criminal penalties for defamation and make it a civil matter.

– Remove media council’s ability to levy fines and penalties for unbalanced coverage, which gives media council excessive control over content.

– Remove regulations that allow state broadcasters to run campaigneads but oblige commercial media to run ads for free.

– Incentivize diversity in ownership and pluralism of views in media.

– De-consolidate management and funding of public media and shield public media outlets from political pressure on content, to encourage independence.

– Ensure the political independence of the media council.

Elections:

– Implement all OSCE/ODIHR election recommendation, including: Amend law to ensure election commissions enjoy broad political consensus.

– Put in place safeguards to ensure a clear separation between the state and party. „Campaign finance”.

– Courts and administrative rules

– Rescind law that civil servants can be dismissed without justification.

– Strictly enforce prohibitions of political pressupure of influence on judges.

Constitution:

– Reinstate the right of Constitutional Court to rule on substantive constitutionality of proposed amendments to the Fundamental Law.

– Reinstate the right of Constitutional Court to use jurisprudence from 1990-2011 as case law.

– Move appropriate matters from cardinal laws into regular statutes.

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Zorgas
Guest
It’s hard to imagine a US government source leaking this document. For one thing, if they had, they probably also would have pointed out that it was given to Peter Szijjarto directly by Victoria Nuland. And secondly, the U.S. hasn’t really leaked much concerning bilateral relations with Hungary. It has been fairly public, whether in its statements when Mr. Goodfriend was in Hungary, or in its official documents like its 2014 Civil Society Sustainability Index (https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1863/CSOSI-Report-FINAL-7-2-15.pdf). However, the Hungarian government has leaked as if it were incontinent, whenever it feels its bladder bursting with something it needs to get out of its system, it leaks, often to try to mischaracterize or deflect attention, like when it leaked information about the visa bans, or when it leaked the “fecni” and now this. The manner in which it was leaked, with the spin that this was an insolent dictat from Mr. Goodfriend, is characteristic of previous diversionary leaks by the Hungarian government. Perhaps Andras Stumpf’s U.S. source was the Hungarian embassy. I can imagine his conversation with Ambassador Szemerkényi. “So, how are things going with the Americans, Reka?” “Fine, Andras, except they keep pressing me about governance issues. They have this checklist… Read more »
Alex Kuli
Guest

Your comment is spot-on, but in the last sentence you might be misinterpreting Hungarians political worldview. Hungarians, like many eastern Europeans, are culturally predisposed to believing in conspiracy theories. All Orban/Lazar needs to do is say, “This document represents a foreign attack on your freedom,” and Fidesz/Jobbik voters will fly into an indignant rage. It doesn’t matter whether Washington’s suggestions make sense or not.

Webber
Guest
Alex – You are right, and yet I think most Hungarians’ worldview includes an assumption that those who govern them are foul and corrupt. I suspect top Fidesz people are so insulated from public opinion that they don’t realize this, even now. This issue is their achilles heel. Fidesz made a big mistake when they released information that certain Hungarians had been banned from entry to the U.S. No matter how indignant they got in the media and parliament (how they raged and raged!) they took a real hit in the polls. People didn’t buy the government line. I think they may have made another big mistake here. A very big one. The one item that has brought them back into the public’s favor is the refugee crisis. This note from the US doesn’t even mention that. Corruption is again on the table. I really don’t know why they would release it. If they did, and if it really didn’t come from Washington (I don’t believe Stumpf – I bet he reads this, so a personal FO to Stump for the “csicskáztatni” line – he’s no journalist, he’s a propagandist), it could be that Fidesz bigwigs know that Washington about… Read more »
Webber
Guest

P.S. On insulation from pub. opinion. During the internet demonstrations Hír t.v. people were clearly shocked by how much they were hated by the demonstrators, and that people were telling them to their faces that they lie, lie, lie. Those reporters have normal lives, too, unlike Fidesz politicians – but they were completely amazed. They really believed their own B.S., that the public was behind them. Fidesz people never hear the truth if it is something they wouldn’t like, because people don’t dare tell them (for good reason).

Guest

I still remember when I first met my wife and she moved in with me. I only had a satellite dish for tv and she asked for cable to be installed so she could watch some Hungarian tv. The first time we switched to the news on HirTV she immediately said:
No, not OrbánTV – you can’t watch that!
And whenever we have M1 or one of the other government channels, there’s this running gag:
Again, North Korean State TV – how horrible!

There’s an old joke about this – transferred into Hungary it goes like this:
Someone addresses the prime minister repeatedly as “Mr Orb” and when one of his body guards tells him it’s Orbán! he says:
Well, you know I’m so used to this Orb… – as soon as the prime minister’s name comes up on tv, my wife switches channels …

De La Da
Guest
Stumpf is a propagandist. And the best thing is that it’s so uncool to be a fidesznik these days, especially in “the sinner”, “liberal” Budapest where he lives. I know he feels it too. For a long time he enjoyed that fact wherever he went, he was the new, cool, young fidesznik guy. The new promise, the new hope for a better, more honest kind of journalism. Well, those days are over. He now feels, even if he denies it, that the younger generation to whom he writes his shit (actually his readers aged with him and older folks as they picked up the internet stared to read him) is no longer friendly with fideszniks because they’re such a cool bunch but because the fideszniks still control the money. Two minutes later the younger generation curse Stumpf and the rest of the this media set behind their backs. I can personally attest to that (it wasn’t me, I’m older). Just because Fidesz’ media empire works well, from Mandiner to 888.hu to a renewed Pesti Srácok to Faktor etc. doesn’t mean people respect or like the fidesznik propagandist bunch. Try to pick up girls saying you are a fidesznik: crazily it… Read more »
Guest

But there are still independent media outlets it seems – at least in English.
Just look at this scathing article in today’s BBJ on corruption in Orbanistan:
http://bbj.hu/opinion/editorial-appearance-of-corruption-becomes-routine_105784
Almost unbelievable!

petofi
Guest

@Weber

You miss the point: ‘raising questions of corruption’ doesn’t mean a thing to Hungarians. Their mentality has been rewired to respond to another attack on their beloved country. In other words, Orban has fed them more material ‘to hate’–the country”s favorite pastime.

exTor
Guest

Volkswagen’s US CEO said before the American Congress that the company had no knowledge of the VW computer scam. He said that he realized that it was hard to believe that the company’s higherups had no foreknowledge of the computer-code emissions-test-results tinkering.

I believe that it is possible that rogue VW personnel did it.

As for the leak of the nonpaper paper, it is also entirely possible that the leak could have occurred on either side, but not officially. A rogue player, either Hungarian or American, could have passed the nonpaper on.

A case could be made for many possibilities.

MAGYARKOZÓ

Guest

If all the advertising boards and pillars did not already belong to the government, albeit via one of their personal oligarchs, then this non-paper should be posted on every single advertising space in Hungary.

The list comprises in a nutshell a great deal of what is wrong with Orbán’s “government”, who are unfamiliar with the expression “That government is best, which governs least”.

Richard P. Ray
Guest

In the words of “Little Big Man” before he told Custer that the entire Indian nation was just over that rise ahead…”the truth can be a powerful thing”. Calm truth, in the long run, wins.

Webber
Guest

OT What has happened to Gabriella Selmeczi? I don’t miss her, but I do wonder. For a time her name was everywhere. Eva even wrote a post about her. Now, though she’s Party spokeswoman, you hardly ever see her. Her personal homepage is no longer working. Did she offend the Great O in some way?

Webber
Guest

okay, that was dishonest… I DO miss Selmeczi! Has she simply dropped her duties to concentrate on her family?
She appears here in best form at min 1.05:

Reality Check
Guest

She appeared briefly last week, in an ATV piece, during a government meeting about infectious diseases and immigrants. When the physicians announced that there was nothing to worry about, a opposition politician condemned Fidesz for fear-mongering about the issue. She then lectured the opposition politician about politicizing the issue.

exTor
Guest

Gabriella Selmeczi linked immigrants to the specter of infectious diseases. When a politico accused her –rightly so– of fearmongering, she hit back by saying that the politico was ‘politicizing the issue’.

That’s rich, coming from someone who is a mouthpiece for a government that blew up the refugee situation and has endlessly politicized it.

The many pictures of Hungarian cops and military personnel wearing gloves and facemasks contribute to the Hungarian national perception that the refugees are potentially dangerous, that they should be feared.

This message is consonant with the ongoing government antiimmigrant propaganda that demonizes refugees/migrants as people who are likely to take jobs from Hungarians, people who will undermine Christianity, people who will transform Magyar culture, people who are thus not wanted.

On a lighter note, ‘specter’ [ghost, menace, dread] and ‘spectrum’ [range, extent, sweep] are etymologically connected, both linking to the Latin verb ‘specere’ [to look]. Okay, school’s out.

MAGYARKOZÓ

Istvan
Guest

I did not see anything in the document posted by Eva that would merit that the document be declared classified under Executive Order 13526, which currently determines what should be classified. The United States has three levels of classification: Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret. Each level of classification indicates an increasing degree of sensitivity. This order is public information and can be read at https://en.m.wikisource.org/wiki/Executive_Order_13526

While the document does involve “foreign relations or foreign activities of the United States” there is nothing in the document that is based on confidential sources. Eva or many of the posters on this site could have written this document just based on access to public information coming from Hungary. This is as they say Vihar egy pohár vízben (a storm in a glass).

Istvan
Guest
Eva I agree it is for domestic consumption, but doesn’t Orban attempt at least to critique the domestic affairs of other nations? For example in relationship to same sex marriage or other issues. I would argue PM Orban has every right to express those sentiments in relationship to domestic issues within the USA that reflect his values, values that I don’t share by the way. I am actually very proud that our nation has made a stand on the civil society issues in that document. The fact that the USA does not really push these types of deeper civil society issues in a nation like Afganistan for example I think reflects the higher state of Hungary on the scale of economic development and along with it higher expectations for Hungarian civil society. It would be good if we pushed these types of issues in many more nations, instead of deferring to cultural practices that are covers for dictatorships around the world. From my experience we have as a nation looked the other way about civil society issues in many nations we consider allies, and harped about the same issues in nations we do not consider to be allies, Iran being… Read more »
Webber
Guest

István.
If one is dealing with someone in a wheelchair (Afghanistan), one does not criticize him for not running faster.
If one is dealing with certain less developed countries, harping on impingement of civil society is ridiculous. Violations of basic human rights are the essential issue in these countries.
Hungary gets the criticism it deserves. Civil society is an issue.

german1971
Guest

A new name for me: Noemi Szecsi was published in New York Times!
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/09/opinion/how-europes-other-half-lives.html?_r=0

Famous and ordinary suicides on train tracks are frightening memories.

Can we ever hope for a rosy future regarding trains?

Other Hungarian topics: http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/hungary/index.html

exTor
Guest

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2015/09/08/istvan-simicskos-encounter-with-celeste-a-wallander-2002/#comment-101475

Thanx german1971. The HS readership was tipped to the Noémi Szécsi article just after it came out in the NYT.

MAGYARKOZÓ

Rikard
Guest

Re: ‘I am actually very proud that our nation has made a stand on the civil society issues in that document’

You know far from me to be a prognosticator on the future of Hungary but I would hope that the Magyar ‘kocsi’ will get a tuneup shortly based on the document. She’s got 4 wheels and perhaps if at least if one wheel starts to get squeaky it’ll proverbially ‘get the grease’.

How long the country will ride being sold a bill of goods is anyone’s guess. But the declaration is important to show the grave indictment of what kind of refashioned state is being created. It is incredible that it even has gone to that. I don’t know. The country must have had a lobotomy of some kind by their governmental doctors along the line. The opposition could use some reklam noting that ‘minds’ are terrible things to waste.

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