This is what happens if you go away for three days. You come back to find that the U.S. government has a simple binary choice as far as the refugee question in Europe is concerned. Either the White House follows the left-liberal solution of George Soros or it shares the views of the East European countries, which recommend a policy aimed at making Europe safe from Islamic terrorism. The former option leads to anarchy; the latter, to better relations between the United States and the countries of Eastern Europe.
This in a nutshell is the opinion of Zsolt Németh, whom western observers have viewed as a moderate, a man who considers U.S.-Hungarian relations important, and who has often criticized foreign policy steps of the newly reconstructed ministry of foreign affairs and trade under the nominal leadership of Péter Szijjártó. Nominal, because we all know that nothing happens in that ministry that doesn’t reflect the ideas and designs of Viktor Orbán.
So, what happened? In both the first and second Orbán governments Németh was the undersecretary of the foreign ministry, which basically means that he was the deputy foreign minister. But the newly reconstructed ministry had no place for Zsolt Németh, an old friend of Viktor Orbán dating back to their student days. He was one of the handful of people who established Fidesz as a student movement in 1988. After his forced retirement from the foreign ministry, he was apparently offered a job in Brussels as the head of the Hungarian embassy to the European Union. But, sensing that the office would not have any significant influence on the course of Hungarian foreign policy, he opted for the chairmanship of the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs instead.
Németh is no longer a critic of the Hungarian foreign policy that was formulated by Viktor Orbán and that came into full bloom after Péter Szijjártó became foreign minister. In fact, judging from his recent statements, he supports the present course wholeheartedly. What changed his mind? I suspect he fell prey to the seeming success of Viktor Orbán’s handling of the refugee crisis. At the moment he believes that the European Commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker and backed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel will not be able to get support for their policies and consequently will fail. Sentiment will start to shift toward Viktor Orbán’s ideas, so the Hungarian government should stick with Orbán’s plans come hell or high water. “The defense of the outside borders is a Hungarian brand that must be jealously guarded” and, I guess, broadly promoted.
Németh was taken aback by the latest American message delivered by U.S. Ambassador Colleen Bell. From an interview with Népszabadság it looks as if he totally misunderstood the relative quiet in U.S.-Hungarian relations that set in with the arrival of Bell as ambassador and thus accuses the United States of returning to the “Goodfriend era.” Which he considers a big mistake. A wrong policy move. Instead of criticizing Hungary, the United States should “recognize the new situation that has presented itself in 2015” in the whole region. The United States “should look at East-Central Europe through appropriate glasses” because it is on the wrong track. Németh warns the United States that at present “a radical political rearrangement is taking place in the region” which Washington should recognize. In case U.S. policymakers don’t quite know what Németh is talking about, he explains that the tremendous electoral victory of Fidesz in 2014 and the results of the Polish election a couple of weeks ago indicate that a serious right-wing swing is taking place in Eastern Europe. The United States should simply accept that fact. Németh is warning Washington: don’t try to play the overseer of democratic norms here. You will only burn yourself.
Although I always doubted Németh’s commitment to the Euro-Alantic alliance, at least I used to think that he was politically sophisticated. But anyone who singles out George Soros as the chief culprit of the migrant crisis is not only creating an alternate reality but is also laying the Hungarian government open to charges of anti-Semitism. Of course, Németh is only echoing his boss. Viktor Orbán blames Soros for the crisis and accuses him of wanting to ruin Christian Europe by insisting on the integration of asylum seekers for demographic and economic reasons.
Anti-Semitism may not be explicitly voiced but, as László Kéri, a political scientist and former professor of Orbán, said on ATV on Monday night, Soros is the embodiment of the wealthy Jewish American. So when Orbán attacks Soros, everybody knows what he is talking about, even though he doesn’t say it outright. He is fanning anti-capitalism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Americanism. Far-right publications are already full of lists of state department officials of Jewish origin. And the pro-government Magyar idők says that “Soros’s partner-in-crime directs the U.S. ambassador.” The innocent non-Jewish American ambassador is being manipulated. At least this is what the author of an editorial in Süddeutsche Zeitung thinks. Orbán’s dragging Soros into this discourse is a case of anti-Semitism pure and simple.
One thing is sure. Supporters of European far-right parties find Viktor Orbán’s messages very attractive. A politician of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) quoted Orbán’s accusations against Soros approvingly on Facebook. The usual anti-Semitic comments followed: Zionist Jewish financiers are supporters of the immigrants and “rich American Jews take revenge for centuries of Jewish persecution in Europe.” The politician agreed, adding that she as a politician cannot voice such opinions but she is glad to read the brave and independent thoughts of others. The result: the politician was forced out of the party. Not even FPÖ would tolerate that kind of behavior. This is how far right Orbán has moved, even if only through coded messages.