Entering a new phase in U.S.-Hungarian relations?

I would like to return to U.S.-Hungarian relations because I suspect that Washington will soon be more active than it has been since January of this year when the new ambassador, Colleen Bell, arrived in Budapest. The Hungarian media, ever since the beginning of October, has been convinced that as soon as the refugee crisis is over Washington will return to the kind of strong criticism of the Hungarian government and its practices that we saw a year ago. At that time Ildikó Vida, then still the director of NAV, the Hungarian equivalent of the Internal Revenue Service, was put on a list of those barred from entering the United States because of corruption charges.

Or at least this is what, according to vs.huDavid H. L. Van Cleve, first councillor in charge of political and economic affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, told a group of insiders. The 27 points Victoria Nuland raised with Péter Szijjártó are still on the table, and it is only question of time when they will be pursued again.

At the end of September Ambassador Colleen Bell gave her first in-depth interview to the on-line news site Origo. I am using here the original English version of the interview as it appeared on the website of the U.S. Embassy. I should mention by way of preface that I was impressed by the skill with which Ambassador Bell answered the reporter’s questions.

What did we learn from the interview? Quite a bit, despite Bell’s careful phrasing. First of all, it seems that the U.S. Embassy is in constant touch with the Hungarian foreign ministry concerning Hungary’s treatment of the refugees. U.S. policy seems to be that, although Hungary has the right to build a fence, “what we promote is for the European Union–including Hungary–to come up with a comprehensive and unified approach.” The United States offered “technical assistance and information sharing … to help meet the logistical and humanitarian challenges Hungary faces in trying to deal with an influx of vulnerable, displaced people.” My impression after reading the text is that the offered assistance wasn’t taken advantage of.

Ambassador Colleen Bell / Source: Origo / Photo by Gábor Szabó,

Ambassador Colleen Bell / Source: Origo / Photo by Gábor Szabó

Bell also indicated that the United States government disapproves of the way Hungary treated the refugees. Although “we understand that Hungary is in a difficult situation … we promote the humane treatment of the refugees.” And, however briefly, she returned to the themes of “corruption, the lack of predictability, fairness, and transparency,” conditions that impede foreign investment.

This interview coincided with the arrival of Deputy Assistant Secretary Robert Berschinski, and naturally the reporter wanted to know whether “there is a reason for the timing of his visit.” Bell tried to minimize the significance of Berschinski’s visit, saying that “there’s no specific reason for his visit other than spending time with us here at the Embassy and meeting members of the government and NGOs, and a variety of other people.” However, as vs.hu pointed out, Berschinski planned stay in Hungary was relatively long.

A day after his arrival in Budapest, Bell and Berschinski visited Miskolc, where he introduced himself as a personal representative of Secretary of State John Kerry and called on the city of Miskolc to follow the instructions of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. And he talked to representatives of the Jewish community. During his visit he also went to the prime minister’s office, where he met with Szabolcs Takács, undersecretary in charge of European affairs, who is also president of IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Association). And he got in touch with László Szabó, deputy of Péter Szijjártó, since the foreign minister happened to be in New York on that day.

In an interview with 444.hu he elaborated on some of the topics he discussed with various government officials: the election law, law on churches, corruption, discrimination against the Roma, and the refugee crisis. In addition, “we sent a message that the police investigation of NGOs must stop.” Perhaps, after all, American intervention was successful in this one respect. Today the National Tax and Customs Office (NAV) closed its investigation into Ökotárs and 17 other associations and foundations for lack of evidence. Berschinski admitted, however, that there is no progress at all on changing the electoral law or the law on the churches. At the end of his interview he indicated that friendly talks are not the only instruments the United States can use to change the attitude of the Hungarian government.

In addition, Berschinski gave an interview to Magyar Nemzet in which he repeated some of points he had made in his 444.hu interview, but he added a few revealing details. In this interview he made the reason for his trip clearer: “The object of my trip first and foremost was an opportunity to discuss with the Hungarian government our misgivings concerning human rights and the state of democracy.” And when the reporter interpreted the silence of the United States as a sign of satisfaction, or at least fewer reasons for criticism, Berschinski corrected her. “I can assure you that the ambassador will also make more public statements in the future.”

It seems to me that what has been going on at the embassy in the last few months is “a kind of data gathering” to prepare for tackling some of the outstanding issues.

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petofi
Guest

My suspicious nature tells me that the coming firming up of the American stance to Hungary is related to American politics and the impending entry of Biden into the presidential race…

Istvan
Guest
In relation to Mr. Berschinski’s visit to Hungary the US based Human Rights First has a somewhat more critical assessment see http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/blog/state-department-official-calls-out-hungary-human-rights-and-democracy-concerns Specifically the organization states: “It’s good that he (Berschinsk) is publicly criticizing Hungary’s increasing authoritarianism, and his visit signals to Hungarian officials that the U.S. government is keeping a close eye on its ally. However, his silence on Hungary’s controversial border fence is concerning, as is his “compliment” to Hungary for its chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.” The article goes on: “However, on the refugee crisis, Berschinski deferred on taking a position on Hungary’s construction of a border fence, saying that the European Union is the appropriate forum to address this issue. Even if a regional multilateral conversation is necessary, the United States can still express its views on whether a borders-first approach is wise. The Obama Administration should encourage states throughout Europe, including Hungary, to respect the human rights of refugees and migrants and to respect their obligations to protect refugees from arbitrary detention or return to persecution. And on September 30, the day of Berschinski’s arrival, Ambassador Colleen Bell emphasized that Hungary has a right to secure its borders. The United States should be… Read more »
Zorgas
Guest
Perhaps it isn’t a new phase. While the Hungarian government has been trying to characterize the relationship between the US and Hungary as entering a new phase ever since the US sent Colleen Bell as ambassador and Andre Goodfriend departed. However, characterizing US-Hungary relations as entering a “new phase” and the US as easing up on its concerns may have been a Fidesz government attempt at self-fulfilling prophecy. They were simply trying to put a spin on the ambassador’s arrival that she would grow comfortable with — in a sense, make her feel extremely welcome, as long as she doesn’t focus publicly on the issues of civil society, transparency, accountability, corruption, etc., as did Mr. Goodfriend. However, while also getting to know the traditional Hungaricum culture of which many in Hungary are so fond, Ambassador Bell also met with NGOs and the business community, noting almost from her very first week the impact that lack of transparency has on the business and investment climate, saying that “a foreign company that invests in Hungary wants to be certain that a given rule would not be arbitrarily changed from one day to another, and emphasized that in global competition, companies tend to… Read more »
Guest

Re: ‘Ambassador Bell: ‘I must tell you I am having so much fun exploring this beautiful, vibrant, and dynamic country’

And if you compare that to those explorers of Polar fame Messrs Scott and Shackleton some could get the impression she’s got a ‘cush’ job over there in Central Europe.

If the first year was in the ‘fun house’ what will the next bring? I sure hope relations won’t wind up in a circus of say consistent ‘warm’ politeness and smooth words.

At times the tendency of diplomatic language can get lost in banalities and evince an effort to slink by very uncomfortable realities in a relationship. I’ll probably come off as a grinch here but as much as I would want the ambassador to ‘work’ the relationship with the Hungarian government I just kind of get a feeling that continual ‘smileys’ in pix with some members of the government should be verboten. Not sure what’s there to smile about right now over there. And anyway ‘powerful’ people keep the dead-pan face. The ambassador should take her cue from Vlad and Vic the great gamesmen of politics. And of course they are always working those ‘relationships’….;-)…

Grisa
Guest

OT:

Do you remember Petra Laszlo, the camerawomen of Jobbik’s TV station, who tripped and kicked Syrian refugees, including kids? Now she gave an interview to Isvestia, the Russain medium (note that Jobbik is supported by Russia and vica versa).

She now says that she would sue the very people she tripped and kicked, as well as facebook. She is now studying Russian and when the litigation is over she will move to Russia with her family.

http://index.hu/belfold/2015/10/21/laszlo_petra_beperelne_a_felrugott_menekultet/

Webber
Guest

Отлично.
She was never sorry about what she did. Her activity on her social networking sites revealed she was proud of what she did, even of kicking that little girl.
The editor of Heti Válasz, who tried to whitewash her, should be ashamed of himself.

Webber
Guest
“technical assistance and information sharing … to help meet the logistical and humanitarian challenges Hungary faces in trying to deal with an influx of vulnerable, displaced people.” I am absolutely certain that there was a certain form of “information sharing” that was welcome by Hungary: that is, the US security community must be interested in sharing with its Hungarian colleagues all information it may have about the identity of terrorists, in case some might be found among the refugees, and Hungarian security people must be eager to have the information (it’s free, after all). Serbia, also, is clearly receiving such information (reading between the lines of Serbian Int. Min. statements). I doubt Hungary or Serbia have passed on any information in return, but they are small countries with rather close relations to Russia, so… (Russia also gets such information – but shares what it has on terrorists as well: again, reading between the lines) It’s worth noting that so far not a single terrorist has been identified among refugees in Hungary or Serbia. I am not certain that the US has much to say about migrant challenges given conditions on the Mexican border (incl. vigilantes in Texas and Arizona, and… Read more »
Istvan
Guest
Assuming that Mr. Berschinski will play a significant role in advising Ambassador Bell I would not expect our (United States) embassy to take a strong position relating to the violence at the Serbian border. As was noted in Mr Berschinski’s biographical information he served in Rwanda where there were over 2,000 UN combat troops deployed. In 1994 there were violent clashes in that country, including the assassinations of two major political leaders and the ambush of a UN led convoy. Ultimately 22 UN soldiers were killed and UN forces repeatedly had to enter riot control mode that in some cases fell over into direct fire fights. The violence that took place at the border by the Hungarian TEK was highly restrained in comparison to what Mr. Berschinski likely saw in Rwanda as a military officer. The use of rubber bullets on civilians including refugees in riot situations would not be considered shocking. As Ambassador Bell stated last month Hungary has a right to secure its borders, so I don’t expect the US government to adopt a formal position critical of the actions of the TEK at the border or support calls for an investigation. I think its fair to say… Read more »
Webber
Guest

Istvan
Odd. The US embassy, rightly, brought up police brutality during the 2006 rioting in Budapest, during which rubber bullets were fired, tear gas was used, innocents were beaten, and “vipera” were wielded (no live fire, at all – “just” rubber bullets, and one man thereby blinded). Police action then was also the target of condemnation by several very critical human rights reports, including from Amnesty International.
Two former policemen were just sentenced to prison terms a couple of days ago for their actions at the time – which were clearly in contravention of Hungarian law (as were the actions of TEK at Röszke, btw.)
There seems to be a major discrepancy between what you expect the US govt. to do and what it has already done; indeed between what you think is legal and what Hungarian law and the Hungarian courts – even under Orbán – clearly say is not.

Istvan
Guest

Rather than a discrepancy I would characterize it as a varaiable in US reactions to the use of force in civil disturbances around the world.

spectator
Guest
István, I sincerely hope that the US too managed to update their Human Rights policy since 1994! In not any way the comparison fits, otherwise. You see, what the US were doing is one thing, what any – and every? – civilised Hungarian expect from their government is another. The US handling of any case is no any way relevant to what happens in the Hungarian border! Yeah! And you may count in that I have no grudge, whatsoever against the US, but I think that what they doing is theirs, and in no any way ‘trendsetting’ or deciding factor regarding the whole world. Yes, you’re mighty and all that, but just as well skip your expectations that everybody will follow the beat. You may even consider that even if the methods of ‘crowd control’ didn’t exceed the American standards in far and large, they indeed can be treated as overwhelming, unnecessary and inhumane – regarding the given situation at the Serbian-Hungarian border – at the very time of the event. Just for illustrate, what I mean: it is perfectly alright to give sixty goats for a wife on the mountains of Pakistan (can be 35 camels, as much as… Read more »
Webber
Guest
To Richard Field, to US govt. reps. who by chance may read this blog, and also to those who doubt there is fear in Orban’s Hungary – this is what will come to Field: A smear campaign in Orban’s and Jobbik’s media, personal anonymous death threats (from Jobbik and Fidesz people – Field has already experienced this), and possibly prosecution on some trumped up charges which, even if thrown out of court, will take up a lot of Field’s time, energy, and money. Just watch. Russia is the source of inspiration for Orbán’s crew: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/20/russia-activist-flee-nuclear-tv-witch-hunt I hope the US Embassy will take up Field’s cause, the cause of all US citizens who have been or will be harassed in a similar manner, as well as (esp.) the cause of countless unknown Hungarians who suffer incomparably worse pressure than others do. I’m not thinking only of what happened to Ágnes Heller and other philosophers or prominent people (György Péter, for example), or even to civil organizations who are at least well-connected and have a future. I’m thinking of what ordinary unknown Hungarians are facing. For example: see the interview with “Baba” – posted a week or so ago – and what… Read more »
Webber
Guest

P.S. If the opposition would, instead of dealing only with elites, take up the cases of little people – at least document them, carefully for posterity (while protecting the identities of victims – because they can be brutalized even more by the regime) -, that would truly be popular. This is something a civic organization, such as one funded by Soros or the US embassy, might also do,

Sebestyén
Guest
There are a dozen different ways how the opposition, any opposition could in all likelihood be more popular. One doesn’t have to be a genius. . But the present crop will do nothing. Do you know why? Because they are not there in politics to accomplish their democratic ideals, to help people, to change the world into a better place. The opposition politicians – exactly like fideszniks – are solely there to gain financially and be part of the game, in however inferior position. Only the opposition is now in opposition – but they are part of the same corrupt set and that’s enough for them. Voters instinctively feel that the opposition politicians are not genuine and that they don’t really care about the voters. This is why the left (none of its 80-10 parties, except perhaps for DK to a certain extent) could not gain in the last 5 and a half years, despite Orban’s destruction. Given what happened in the last almost 6 years, in a way it’s astonishing how none of the leftist opposition could gain during all these years. It’s a rare accomplishment actually. Granted Orban’s lock on the media with real reach (ie. not the… Read more »
spectator
Guest

You are mostly right.

And you know why?

Simply, because there was no democracy during the Hungarian history, ever.
People should have some kind of understanding, just what are they supposed to wish for, and why they should just do that.
In my opinion Hungarian people have no real contemplation, let alone understanding of democracy in Hungary.
Really!
If you’ll ask anybody the’ll come up with definition of bolshevism – the majority rules – in place of democracy, simply, because the Fidesz – which mean Orbán – managed to plant the idea. Quite cleverly and successfully, but still wrong, all the way.
There is no clear and true understanding among the populace of the concept of democracy!
Test yourself, and catch me if I’m wrong!

petofi
Guest

@Webber

“If the opposition…”

Precisely. I’ve been thinking the very same-

Guest

Re: ‘I hope the US Embassy will take up Field’s cause, the cause of all US citizens who have been or will be harassed in a similar manner, as well as (esp.) the cause of countless unknown Hungarians who suffer incomparably worse pressure than others do’

Hopefully. If you stand for something well to simplify just stand by what you mean and mean what you say. The US should do no less and use its inherent skill in managing a difficult diplomatic relationship to try and satisfy both countries’ goals. They already know the acts in the VO show. Fail to plan, plan to fail.

videós
Guest

György Nógrádi,one of Orban’s and Fidesz’ “security experts” who’s been all around the media lately tirelessly promoting Orban’s ideas about the refugees (the fence, the iron curtain, terrorism etcetera).

Nogradi is a real charlatan silovik (III/III during communism). His profile would also be hilarious if he wasn’t a very effective Orban-propaganda tool.

http://index.hu/belfold/2015/10/21/nogradi_gyorgy_bocsanat/

Webber
Guest

You’re right, Nógrádi is effective because he’s fluent, speaks quickly, and his tongue never slips. He also speaks in “points,” as if he were reading a paper, which makes him sound like an expert. He’d make a great actor. In a way, he is a great actor.
Only those who recognize the b.s. are not impressed by his staccato delivery. People who who don’t know the topics he addresses (most people) think he’s speaking the Gospel.

Webber
Guest

That article videós posted above is hilarious – In various forms of his CV Nógrádi has claimed he’s the vice-rector of a university in Austria that does not exist (but will, says Nógrádi), and a member of the presidential council of a Swedish national security university where nobody even knows who Nógrádi is, but they are absolutely sure he has nothing to do with the university (a reporter asked – Nógrádi said it was a “mistake” on his CV).
And Nógrádi was a member of the Hungarian secret services in Kádár’s time…
This all reminds me of the Sorin Antohi affair at CEU (a former securitate informer who forged a PhD and lied repeatedly about his academic activities).

tromos
Guest

Egy igazi szélhámos.

Julius
Guest

Totally OT: why the Republicans are “winning”. Yep, they are much healthier and well-organized than one would think from the Trump, Carson debates.

http://www.vox.com/2015/10/19/9565119/democrats-in-deep-trouble

Webber
Guest

Yes, yes, and Syriza is heading for defeat in Greece, and the Liberals will never win the Canadian elections again…. yawn… Oh, and Corbyn will never be elected to head Labour because he could never win an election, not ever… We’ve heard it all before.
Is that all they can get out of their crystal balls?
Pundits are boring.

Member

In fact the Liberals just won the election again with a majority government in Canada, so contrary to the notion that only the conservatives are so awesome, there is a living proof that you can’t fool people too long…

DeLorean
Guest
Member

I am not sure if that page is truly Gaspar Orban’s page. Anyone can start a Facebook account with any name they wish. In case it is…

To those who do not speak Hungarian: If the entry is truly by Gaspar, Viktor Orban’s son, he essentially saying that those who deny Jesus as the son of God are bad people. He even quotes from the bible “the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” Luke 12:8-12
So, eventually there are two kinds of people, those who should be supported because they believe in Jesus Christ, and those who should go to Hell, and that would include of course the Hungarian Jews in line after the muslims. At least that is my own conclusion after reading the text.

Also, Gaspar just loves Kim Davis, the infamous cleric paid by the US government, who decided to take things into her hands and not to follow what she is getting paid for but write her own rules. Gaspar should know better. I wonder what would happen in Hungary (or more so what is happening) to people who does not follow his daddy’s (Viktor Orban’s) rule?

sörös
Guest

Unfortunately that’s from his page. He is very religious (quite a rarity among the younger generation), socially very conservative and he’s apparently quite confused.

Guest

Re: Gaspar’s ‘very’ religious background…

You know if he decides to go into political life later on it boosts the probability of the country to get maybe get a hand in trying some other ‘ocracys’ besides ‘demo’ and ‘auto’. Perhaps ‘theo’, a new Christian Magyarized one would be in the offing.

spectator
Guest

He left out the alternative, as is in believing in Jesus Christ, or Viktor Orbán.

Yes, dear folks, there are still some differences…
Can be the hairdo, as I gather.
The rest is more or less in place. If God willing.
Or “Insallah” – if I wish to be more updated.

Guest

Is Gaspar O the one who sat with his father in the “president’s lounge” at the soccer world cup in Brazil?
he seems a strange person …

Re hell – really OT, my favourite joke:

After an accident a guy wakes up in wonderful surroundings, music in the background, and a beautiful woman comes up to him smiling:
Welcome to the afterlife aka hell!
I’m the devil assigned to show you around and then take you to your quarters.
So she shows him the bar, one of the many buffets, a pool and a gym and so on …
He marvels at all the wonderful places but then they pass an iron door. He can see red fire through the cracks, a sulphuric smell reaches his nose and horrible screams are heard …
What is this? What’s going on behind that door? he asks his guide and the devil answers:
Nothing to worry about, those are just the Christians – they want it that way …

buddy
Guest

Excellent post, Eva. I think US-Hungarian relations are in a much better position than they were one year ago at this time. We’ll have to see if Bell’s back channel negotiations are more effective at changing Hungarian policy than Goodfriend’s open denunciations were…

Hub
Guest

The relationship is better, Orban didn’t concede an inch. Orban won.

Webber
Guest

What did Orban win?
Fidesz’s popularity fell throughout the time the party was attacking US representatives.
The US didn’t publish the list of those banned (as the US govt. said it wouldn’t – and kept its word), and Hungary didn’t sue Goodfriend or any American official (though Szijjártó said Hungary would – and broke his word)
Since then, vida has lost her job.
Those banned from entering the US are still on the blacklist.

So, what did Orbán win?

Guest
We have a saying in German: Ist der Ruf erst ruiniert, lebt’s sich völlig ungeniert … That means for Fidesz and Orbán: Everybody in the EU and the USA (and all around the world …) knows that Hungary is run by a kind of mafia – but as long as they don’t expropriate and harass too much the international companies doing business here or put US/EU citizen in jail, nobody really cares … If Hungarians are treated badly, well it’s their problem – they were stupid enough to elect them! A bit OT: We just returned to Hungary by car and again found out how terrible driving here is compared to Austria and Germany – not just because of the bad roads but because of the stupidity and insolence of many (of course not all, but too many …) Hungarian drivers! Too many don’t respect the rules and drive like mad and you don’t see any police, nor are there speed checks. It’s still a kind of shock every time, though I know what to expect after driving here for so many yeas … My wife says that the image of the police is still like in Communist times: They… Read more »
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