Tag Archives: Central Europe

Two letters of Central European leaders to Washington: 2009 and 2017

Yesterday Josh Rogin of The Washington Post reported that 17 current and former officials of several East and Central European countries had written a letter to President-Elect Donald Trump with the following message: ”As your treaty-bound allies, we appeal to Americans in the new U.S. Administration and Congress to stand firm in the defense of our common goals and interests: peace, Atlantic strength, and freedom.”

This is not the first such letter sent to the White House by well-known politicians from the region, which has had less than pleasant experiences with Russian territorial ambitions. During the Obama administration, after the announcement of a “reset” of U.S. relations with Russia, a group of politicians sent a letter to the president warning him of the dangers of American neglect of the region and the possibility of “wrong concessions to Russia.” Among the signatories to both letters was Mátyás Eörsi, who was kind enough to call my attention to them.

The Washington Post article quotes Peter Doran, executive vice president of the Center for European Policy Analysis, who claims that the politicians in 2009 were right and “now with the prospect of a new grand bargain with Russia, Central Europeans are warning the new American president not to make the same mistakes of his predecessors.”

You will notice that in 2009 it took about four months for the Central European leaders to realize the dangers of a new policy toward Russia. This time around, Trump hasn’t even been sworn in and these politicians, diplomats, and national security experts are already alarmed. I’m afraid their worries are justified.

♦ ♦ ♦


Letter to President-elect Donald J. Trump
from America’s Allies

January 9, 2017

President-elect Donald J. Trump
Trump-Pence Transition Team
1717 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20006

Dear President-elect Trump:

We—decision-makers and public figures from across Europe—welcome your election as America’s 45th president. We are eager to work with your administration to sustain our powerful transatlantic Alliance, jointly defending our way of life at a time of great peril.

Russia’s continuing efforts to destabilize Ukraine, and its illegal annexation of Crimea, threaten the peace, predictability and security that Americans and Europeans created together through our victory in the Cold War. We are concerned that the prospect of a new grand bargain with Russia will endanger this historic achievement.

It would be a grave mistake to end the current sanctions on Russia or accept the division and subjugation of Ukraine. Doing so would demoralize those seeking a Euro-Atlantic orientation for that country. It would also destabilize our Eastern neighborhood economically and give heart to extremist, oligarchic and anti-Western elements there.

The wider damage would be grave too. The aftershocks of such a deal would shake American credibility with allies in Europe and elsewhere. The rules-based international order on which Western security has depended for decades would be weakened. The alliances that are the true source of American greatness would erode: countries that have expended blood, treasure and political capital in support of transatlantic security will wonder if America is now no longer a dependable friend.

Have no doubt: Vladimir Putin is not America’s ally. Neither is he a trustworthy international partner. Both of the presidents who preceded you tried in their own ways to deal with Russia’s leadership in the spirit of trust and friendship. Big mistake: Putin treated their good intentions as opportunities.

Under Putin, Russia’s record of militarism, wars, threats, broken treaties and false promises have made Europe a more dangerous place. Putin does not seek American greatness. As your allies, we  do.  When  America  called  on  us  in the past, we came. We were with you in Iraq. We were with you in Afghanistan. We took risks together; sacrificed sons and daughters together. We defend our shared transatlantic security as a united front. This is what makes our Alliance powerful. When the United States stands strong, we are all stronger—together.

A deal with Putin will not bring peace. On the contrary, it makes war more likely. Putin views concessions as a sign of weakness. He will be inclined to test American credibility in frontline NATO allies, such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. He may use not only military intimidation, but also cyber-attacks, energy and economic pressure, espionage, psychological warfare, disinformation and the targeted use of bribery. As Russia’s neighbors, we are familiar with these techniques. Countering them requires greater strength, solidarity and resolve from the West—not more accommodation.

As your treaty-bound allies, we appeal to Americans in the new U.S. Administration and Congress to stand firm in the defense of our common goals and interests: peace,  Atlantic strength, and freedom. United, we are more than a match for Russia’s ailing kleptocracy. Divided, as we have seen all too clearly in recent years, we are all at risk. For decades, our unified Alliance has been the bulwark of European security. We appeal to our American friends to strengthen, not weaken our transatlantic ties. Ukraine needs support; the frontline states need your constancy and resolve. And most of all, Russia must see that when we are attacked, we grow stronger, not weaker.

Sincerely,

Traian Băsescu, Carl Bildt, Mikuláš Dzurinda, Mátyás Eörsi, Iulian Fota, István Gyarmati, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Rasa Juknevičienė, Ojārs Ēriks Kalniņš, Paweł Kowal, Janusz Onyszkiewicz, Rosen Plevneliev, Karel Schwarzenberg, Radosław Sikorski, Petras Vaitiekūnas, Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, Alexandr Vondra


An Open Letter to the Obama Administration

from Central and Eastern Europe

July 16, 2009

The following open letter to the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama appeared in the Polish newspaper “Gazeta Wyborcza” on July 16:

We have written this letter because, as Central and Eastern European (CEE) intellectuals and former policymakers, we care deeply about the future of the transatlantic relationship as well as the future quality of relations between the United States and the countries of our region. We write in our personal capacity as individuals who are friends and allies of the United States as well as committed Europeans.

Our nations are deeply indebted to the United States. Many of us know firsthand how important your support for our freedom and independence was during the dark Cold War years. U.S. engagement and support was essential for the success of our democratic transitions after the Iron Curtain fell twenty years ago. Without Washington’s vision and leadership, it is doubtful that we would be in NATO and even the EU today.

We have worked to reciprocate and make this relationship a two-way street. We are Atlanticist voices within NATO and the EU. Our nations have been engaged alongside the United States in the Balkans, Iraq, and today in Afghanistan. While our contribution may at times seem modest compared to your own, it is significant when measured as a percentage of our population and GDP. Having benefited from your support for liberal democracy and liberal values in the past, we have been among your strongest supporters when it comes to promoting democracy and human rights around the world.

Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, however, we see that Central and Eastern European countries are no longer at the heart of American foreign policy. As the new Obama Administration sets its foreign-policy priorities, our region is one part of the world that Americans have largely stopped worrying about. Indeed, at times we have the impression that U.S. policy was so successful that many American officials have now concluded that our region is fixed once and for all and that they could “check the box” and move on to other more pressing strategic issues. Relations have been so close that many on both sides assume that the region’s transatlantic orientation, as well as its stability and prosperity, would last forever.

That view is premature. All is not well either in our region or in the transatlantic relationship. Central and Eastern Europe is at a political crossroads and today there is a growing sense of nervousness in the region. The global economic crisis is impacting on our region and, as elsewhere, runs the risk that our societies will look inward and be less engaged with the outside world. At the same time, storm clouds are starting to gather on the foreign policy horizon. Like you, we await the results of the EU Commission’s investigation on the origins of the Russo-Georgian war. But the political impact of that war on the region has already been felt. Many countries were deeply disturbed to see the Atlantic alliance stand by as Russia violated the core principles of the Helsinki Final Act, the Charter of Paris, and the territorial integrity of a country that was a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace and the Euroatlantic Partnership Council -all in the name of defending a sphere of influence on its borders.

Despite the efforts and significant contribution of the new members, NATO today seems weaker than when we joined. In many of our countries it is perceived as less and less relevant – and we feel it. Although we are full members, people question whether NATO would be willing and able to come to our defense in some future crises. Europe’s dependence on Russian energy also creates concern about the cohesion of the Alliance. President Obama’s remark at the recent NATO summit on the need to provide credible defense plans for all Alliance members was welcome, but not sufficient to allay fears about the Alliance´s defense readiness. Our ability to continue to sustain public support at home for our contributions to Alliance missions abroad also depends on us being able to show that our own security concerns are being addressed in NATO and close cooperation with the United States

We must also recognize that America’s popularity and influence have fallen in many of our countries as well. Public opinions polls, including the German Marshall Fund’s own Transatlantic Trends survey, show that our region has not been immune to the wave of criticism and anti-Americanism that has swept Europe in recent years and which led to a collapse in sympathy and support for the United States during the Bush years. Some leaders in the region have paid a political price for their support of the unpopular war in Iraq. In the future they may be more careful in taking political risks to support the United States. We believe that the onset of a new Administration has created a new opening to reverse this trend but it will take time and work on both sides to make up for what we have lost.

In many ways the EU has become the major factor and institution in our lives. To many people it seems more relevant and important today than the link to the United States. To some degree it is a logical outcome of the integration of Central and Eastern Europe into the EU. Our leaders and officials spend much more time in EU meetings than in consultations with Washington, where they often struggle to attract attention or make our voices heard. The region’s deeper integration in the EU is of course welcome and should not necessarily lead to a weakening of the transatlantic relationship. The hope was that integration of Central and Eastern Europe into the EU would actually strengthen the strategic cooperation between Europe and America.

However, there is a danger that instead of being a pro-Atlantic voice in the EU, support for a more global partnership with Washington in the region might wane over time. The region does not have the tradition of assuming a more global role. Some items on the transatlantic agenda, such as climate change, do not resonate in the Central and Eastern European publics to the same extent as they do in Western Europe.

Leadership change is also coming in Central and Eastern Europe. Next to those, there are fewer and fewer leaders who emerged from the revolutions of 1989 who experienced Washington’s key role in securing our democratic transition and anchoring our countries in NATO and EU. A new generation of leaders is emerging who do not have these memories and follow a more “realistic” policy. At the same time, the former Communist elites, whose insistence on political and economic power significantly contributed to the crises in many CEE countries, gradually disappear from the political scene. The current political and economic turmoil and the fallout from the global economic crisis provide additional opportunities for the forces of nationalism, extremism, populism, and anti-Semitism across the continent but also in some our countries.

This means that the United States is likely to lose many of its traditional interlocutors in the region. The new elites replacing them may not share the idealism – or have the same relationship to the United States – as the generation who led the democratic transition. They may be more calculating in their support of the United States as well as more parochial in their world view. And in Washington a similar transition is taking place as many of the leaders and personalities we have worked with and relied on are also leaving politics.

And then there is the issue of how to deal with Russia. Our hopes that relations with Russia would improve and that Moscow would finally fully accept our complete sovereignty and independence after joining NATO and the EU have not been fulfilled. Instead, Russia is back as a revisionist power pursuing a 19th-century agenda with 21st-century tactics and methods. At a global level, Russia has become, on most issues, a status-quo power. But at a regional level and vis-a-vis our nations, it increasingly acts as a revisionist one. It challenges our claims to our own historical experiences. It asserts a privileged position in determining our security choices. It uses overt and covert means of economic warfare, ranging from energy blockades and politically motivated investments to bribery and media manipulation in order to advance its interests and to challenge the transatlantic orientation of Central and Eastern Europe.

We welcome the “reset” of the American-Russian relations. As the countries living closest to Russia, obviously nobody has a greater interest in the development of the democracy in Russia and better relations between Moscow and the West than we do. But there is also nervousness in our capitals. We want to ensure that too narrow an understanding of Western interests does not lead to the wrong concessions to Russia. Today the concern is, for example, that the United States and the major European powers might embrace the Medvedev plan for a “Concert of Powers” to replace the continent’s existing, value-based security structure. The danger is that Russia’s creeping intimidation and influence-peddling in the region could over time lead to a de facto neutralization of the region. There are differing views within the region when it comes to Moscow’s new policies. But there is a shared view that the full engagement of the United States is needed.

Many in the region are looking with hope to the Obama Administration to restore the Atlantic relationship as a moral compass for their domestic as well as foreign policies. A strong commitment to common liberal democratic values is essential to our countries. We know from our own historical experience the difference between when the United States stood up for its liberal democratic values and when it did not. Our region suffered when the United States succumbed to “realism” at Yalta. And it benefited when the United States used its power to fight for principle. That was critical during the Cold War and in opening the doors of NATO. Had a “realist” view prevailed in the early 1990s, we would not be in NATO today and the idea of a Europe whole, free, and at peace would be a distant dream.

We understand the heavy demands on your Administration and on U.S. foreign policy. It is not our intent to add to the list of problems you face. Rather, we want to help by being strong Atlanticist allies in a U.S.-European partnership that is a powerful force for good around the world. But we are not certain where our region will be in five or ten years time given the domestic and foreign policy uncertainties we face. We need to take the right steps now to ensure the strong relationship between the United States and Central and Eastern Europe over the past twenty years will endure.

We believe this is a time both the United States and Europe need to reinvest in the transatlantic relationship. We also believe this is a time when the United States and Central and Eastern Europe must reconnect around a new and forward-looking agenda. While recognizing what has been achieved in the twenty years since the fall of the Iron Curtain, it is time to set a new agenda for close cooperation for the next twenty years across the Atlantic.

Therefore, we propose the following steps:

First, we are convinced that America needs Europe and that Europe needs the United States as much today as in the past. The United States should reaffirm its vocation as a European power and make clear that it plans to stay fully engaged on the continent even while it faces the pressing challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the wider Middle East, and Asia. For our part we must work at home in our own countries and in Europe more generally to convince our leaders and societies to adopt a more global perspective and be prepared to shoulder more responsibility in partnership with the United States.

Second, we need a renaissance of NATO as the most important security link between the United States and Europe. It is the only credible hard power security guarantee we have. NATO must reconfirm its core function of collective defense even while we adapt to the new threats of the 21st century. A key factor in our ability to participate in NATO’s expeditionary missions overseas is the belief that we are secure at home. We must therefore correct some self-inflicted wounds from the past. It was a mistake not to commence with proper Article 5 defense planning for new members after NATO was enlarged. NATO needs to make the Alliance’s commitments credible and provide strategic reassurance to all members. This should include contingency planning, prepositioning of forces, equipment, and supplies for reinforcement in our region in case of crisis as originally envisioned in the NATO-Russia Founding Act.

We should also re-think the working of the NATO-Russia Council and return to the practice where NATO member countries enter into dialogue with Moscow with a coordinated position. When it comes to Russia, our experience has been that a more determined and principled policy toward Moscow will not only strengthen the West’s security but will ultimately lead Moscow to follow a more cooperative policy as well. Furthermore, the more secure we feel inside NATO, the easier it will also be for our countries to reach out to engage Moscow on issues of common interest. That is the dual track approach we need and which should be reflected in the new NATO strategic concept.

Third, the thorniest issue may well be America’s planned missile-defense installations. Here too, there are different views in the region, including among our publics which are divided. Regardless of the military merits of this scheme and what Washington eventually decides to do, the issue has nevertheless also become — at least in some countries — a symbol of America’s credibility and commitment to the region. How it is handled could have a significant impact on their future transatlantic orientation. The small number of missiles involved cannot be a threat to Russia’s strategic capabilities, and the Kremlin knows this. We should decide the future of the program as allies and based on the strategic plusses and minuses of the different technical and political configurations. The Alliance should not allow the issue to be determined by unfounded Russian opposition. Abandoning the program entirely or involving Russia too deeply in it without consulting Poland or the Czech Republic can undermine the credibility of the United States across the whole region.

Fourth, we know that NATO alone is not enough. We also want and need more Europe and a better and more strategic U.S.-EU relationship as well. Increasingly our foreign policies are carried out through the European Union – and we support that. We also want a common European foreign and defense policy that is open to close cooperation with the United States. We are the advocates of such a line in the EU. But we need the United States to rethink its attitude toward the EU and engage it much more seriously as a strategic partner. We need to bring NATO and the EU closer together and make them work in tandem. We need common NATO and EU strategies not only toward Russia but on a range of other new strategic challenges.

Fifth is energy security. The threat to energy supplies can exert an immediate influence on our nations’ political sovereignty also as allies contributing to common decisions in NATO. That is why it must also become a transatlantic priority. Although most of the responsibility for energy security lies within the realm of the EU, the United States also has a role to play. Absent American support, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline would never have been built. Energy security must become an integral part of U.S.-European strategic cooperation. Central and Eastern European countries should lobby harder (and with more unity) inside Europe for diversification of the energy mix, suppliers, and transit routes, as well as for tough legal scrutiny of Russia’s abuse of its monopoly and cartel-like power inside the EU. But American political support on this will play a crucial role. Similarly, the United States can play an important role in solidifying further its support for the Nabucco pipeline, particularly in using its security relationship with the main transit country, Turkey, as well as the North-South interconnector of Central Europe and LNG terminals in our region.

Sixth, we must not neglect the human factor. Our next generations need to get to know each other, too. We have to cherish and protect the multitude of educational, professional, and other networks and friendships that underpin our friendship and alliance. The U.S. visa regime remains an obstacle in this regard. It is absurd that Poland and Romania — arguably the two biggest and most pro-American states in the CEE region, which are making substantial contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan — have not yet been brought into the visa waiver program. It is incomprehensible that a critic like the French anti-globalization activist Jose Bove does not require a visa for the United States but former Solidarity activist and Nobel Peace prizewinner Lech Walesa does. This issue will be resolved only if it is made a political priority by the President of the United States.

The steps we made together since 1989 are not minor in history. The common successes are the proper foundation for the transatlantic renaissance we need today. This is why we believe that we should also consider the creation of a Legacy Fellowship for young leaders. Twenty years have passed since the revolutions of 1989. That is a whole generation. We need a new generation to renew the transatlantic partnership. A new program should be launched to identify those young leaders on both sides of the Atlantic who can carry forward the transatlantic project we have spent the last two decades building in Central and Eastern Europe.

In conclusion, the onset of a new Administration in the United States has raised great hopes in our countries for a transatlantic renewal. It is an opportunity we dare not miss. We, the authors of this letter, know firsthand how important the relationship with the United States has been. In the 1990s, a large part of getting Europe right was about getting Central and Eastern Europe right. The engagement of the United States was critical to locking in peace and stability from the Baltics to the Black Sea. Today the goal must be to keep Central and Eastern Europe right as a stable, activist, and Atlanticist part of our broader community.

That is the key to our success in bringing about the renaissance in the Alliance the Obama Administration has committed itself to work for and which we support. That will require both sides recommitting to and investing in this relationship. But if we do it right, the pay off down the road can be very real. By taking the right steps now, we can put it on new and solid footing for the future.

[Signed] by Valdas Adamkus, Martin Butora, Emil Constantinescu, Pavol Demes, Lubos Dobrovsky, Matyas Eorsi, Istvan Gyarmati, Vaclav Havel, Rastislav Kacer, Sandra Kalniete, Karel Schwarzenberg, Michal Kovac, Ivan Krastev, Alexander Kwasniewski, Mart Laar, Kadri Liik, Janos Martonyi. Janusz Onyszkiewicz, Adam Rotfeld, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Alexandr Vondra, Lech Walesa.

January 11, 2017

János Lázár: “We want to remain Hungarians!”

With the permission of  The Budapest Beacon I’m republishing their English translation of an important interview with János Lázár, the “COO (chief operating officer)” of Hungary, that originally appeared in yesterday’s Magyar Hírlap, a far-right, pro-Fidesz daily. The interview contains  perhaps the most vituperative anti-American statements from a Fidesz politician to date. The language of this interview can be compared only to articles that appeared in party organs during the Rákosi and early Kádár periods.

Among other things, the United States is accused of raising a new Iron Curtain between Russia and Europe and of meddling in Hungarian domestic affairs. Fidesz politicians seem to be convinced that it is the United States that is behind the demonstrations. In fact, the country is accused of taking over the role of the opposition.

Yesterday the Hungarian government decided to begin diplomatic efforts to get the U.S. government to lift the American chargé d’affaire’s diplomatic immunity. The belief is spreading in Budapest that the Orbán government is planning to declare Goodfriend persona non grata. I do hope that someone can explain to Viktor Orbán the grave consequences of such a decision. The Orbán government is playing with fire.

* * *

JÁNOS LÁZÁR: WE WANT TO REMAIN HUNGARIANS!

Translation of interview with Hungarian Chancellor János Lázár appearing in the 22 December 2014 issue of pro-government Magyar Hírlap under the title “Lázár János: Dolgozni kell, nem szabad elbizonytalanodni”.  (“János Lázár: One must work, not entertain doubts”).

How do you assess the work of the Information Authority (IH), more commonly known as the Hungarian foreign intelligence?

The Prime Minister stated in 2010 that Hungarian intelligence is the most important task in protecting our national independence.  A condition of the country’s sovereignty is decreasing our financial and energy independence as soon as possible.  The task of every Hungarian secret service is strengthening the country, and towards this goal increasing our self-determination.  The Prime Minister brought the collection of intelligence under the Office of the Prime Minister two years ago.  IH operations can work even more efficiently now that European matters have been transferred to us from the foreign ministry.

There are economic interest groups— the bank, tobacco, energy and multinational company lobbies—which, for example, are trying to use the European Commission to advance their economic interests.  Naturally, Hungary does not spy on its allies but it is better to be afraid than to be frightened.  The task of intelligence was changed at the time of the financial crisis so that it helps the government’s work, not only with collecting information but with financial and money market analysis as well.  We expect precise information rather than conspiracy theories from our intelligence agents.

In a country with a high ratio of state and household foreign exchange debt, we are more vulnerable to, and dependent on, foreign interests.  It is no surprise that in the past few years we have faced these kinds of attacks intended to undermine the government.  My job is to direct the attention of the intelligence service colleagues to the performance of these tasks.   For this the government provides the necessary material and human resources.  I hope the world view of those in service has also changed, thereby significantly decreasing Russian or western innervation (sic), and finally increases the commitment to our country’s independence.

Unfortunately, the American wire tapping and spying scandals of the past few years have made it clear that our allies do not respect our partners, and that there are no inhibitions or limits.  The WikiLeaks documents indicate that America also collects information about the personal lives of leading politicians in our country as well.

What stands behind the attempt to exert influence over Hungary?

America’s interests are not the same as Hungary’s.  The United States does not take into consideration the traditions of the region, the country’s traditions.  Unfortunately, they don’t want to understand Central European history and national characteristics.  Naturally, there exist influential United States interest groups as well with which we do not agree on matters of fundamental questions of values.  This world violently, and with money, spreads its convictions such as disregard for the fact that, irrespective of their political proclivities, two-thirds of Hungarians understand a family to refer to the relationship between a man and a woman, and give them the right to raise children.

What is the stronger viewpoint for the Americans, exercising pressure for political or economic interests?

Both.  In the future America will change from being an importer to being an exporter of gas thanks to the mining of shale gas, for which it must create a market.  We can discuss this, but I am certain that the use of power politics is not a suitable method for securing markets.  Our point of view is unequivocal: Hungary is not for sale.  Neither for the Russians nor for the Americans.  We will purchase energy from whoever sells it cheaply and guarantees that it arrives to use as well.

However, we are a small market.  It is not sure that this is the only reason we became an important terrain to the United States.

Unfortunately, there is no economic growth in the European Union, and for this reason the region of Central Europe has become more valuable.  Our area has economic potential, from here it is possible to strengthen the western part of the continent as well.  A warlike situation has developed between the United States and Russia, and the Americans want to create a new iron curtain on Russia’s border.  We are starting from the basic thesis formulated by German chancellor Helmut Kohl and French president Francois Mitterrand:  Europe needs the Russians.   The war and Russia’s economic collapse has unforeseeable consequences for Europe and Hungary.  We are going to pay a high price for it.  In the midst of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis we should not forget either that more than 100,000 Hungarians are living in Karpátalja (Carpatho-Ukraine), a substantial number of which are Hungarian citizens as well.  The most important thing for the government is to protect them as well.

Do you also believe that the Americans are behind the Autumn demonstrations?

The demonstrations are proof that the right to the freedom of expression exists in Hungary.  The demonstrations are as though the American embassy had assumed the role of the Hungarian political opposition.  It might appear to some as though they gave up on the opposition parties ever winning the confidence of the Hungarians, and for this reason they have risen to the task of leading the dissatisfied.  They express opinions on matters not customary for diplomats.  They want to tell us how to behave, what to think about the world.  And they tell us how we should live.  The credibility of the United States has been called into question by the fact that the American spokesman André Goodfriend is either unable or unwilling to tell public opinion why six Hungarian citizens were banned from entering the United States.  Americans should respect Hungary’s thousand-year history, traditions, which cannot be changed through the use of outside force, pressure.  Hungarians do not want to be Americans, Germans or Russians.  We want to remain Hungarians!

But now once again we are forced into a swing policy.  How can this be continued successfully?

The struggle to preserve our identity and independence has characterized our history.  Once again we find ourselves facing such a situation.  I am convinced that the Hungarian opposition parties will not betray our country and assist the Americans in their efforts.  It is not by chance that the American embassy has taken politics to the street, and embolden the organizers and participants.

Goodfriend aside, didn’t the government err in a number of issues giving birth to social discontent?

After the local elections in October the period of governance started.  We never claimed to be infallible, or that we never make mistakes.  We received a two-thirds mandate from the voters to build an independent, strong Hungary, and not break ranks under the pressure of domestic or international interests.

Fidesz is living high off the hog (urizál), and some of the main criticism has concerned you.

It is obvious that young members of Fidesz living high off the hog is a well-constructed political campaign on the part of the opposition and the press.  They want to create an image of us as the party of the rich and which only supports the rich.  That’s a lie!  We introduced the free meals at kindergarten. We were the ones who offered government subsidies to those buying used flats, who continuously raise the minimum wage, who drastically decreased household utility costs, who increased the wages of teachers, and executed an increase in salaries of health and law enforcement workers.

As a result of our economic policies, inflation has disappeared, which the left-wing politicians and intellectuals always said was a tax on the poor.  In addition to all this, we are helping the most vulnerable social strata, those with FX loans:  They will see the first half of 2015 that their monthly payments decrease 25 percent or 30 percent.  And we’re the party of the rich?  Our steps have created opportunities for social inclusion for the poorest.

But in spite of everything it seems that within your own party people are upset that you bought a flat for your young son, or that you have a watch costing many hundreds of thousands of forints.

I hope they don’t want to say that who saves for his children’s future is acting like a lord.  I know there are many who are not able to do this, and that is why I am working, so that they get an opportunity for this.  At the same time in my city the normal order of life is that people support their children to the best of their ability, and try to provide for their future.   In a civil society this cannot be cause for shame but rather virtue.  Let’s see things clearly.  Today there is a political campaign afoot built on jealousy organized by the opposition that involves accusing everyone of corruption and living high off the hog, especially the younger politicians who are in power.  They are doing that with me, those who for the past 25 years look down on Hungarian reality from the homes in the hills of Buda, while I had to struggle on two occasions to win the confidence of a poor provincial part of the country.  How can anyone imagine that I could have won the confidence of those living in poverty and those in need of help if I considered myself exception or looked down on them?  In politics there can only be one answer to this accusation, this campaign to discredit us, this character assassination: total unity within Fidesz.

What can you do against the fall in your popularity?

Decisions come with disputes and consequences.  The current government won’t let up even though it has harmed the interest of a good many groups.  The interest groups behind the press use journalists to mess with the people.  That is what is happening at RTL Klub, whose owner, the German Bertelsmann group, suffered a serious financial loss as a result of the advertising tax.  This group includes a number of oligarchs as well who are not able to access the state’s resources, and that is why they dictate magical questions to journalists who are dependent on them for their existence.  Let’s not forget either that from American money Romanian investigative journalists are training the colleagues of certain internet newspapers, while I know, and this is just part of the legend, it is as though this, too, is happening within the framework of the American operation.

The only question is whether the loss in popularity becomes a tendency, a continuous fall, or whether we’re talking about a wave which happens to be standing at the bottom right now.

We musn’t become uncertain.  We need to work!  If Viktor Orbán had become uncertain in 2011-12-13, then we would not have won the election in 2014.   Then there were moments when Fidesz was even less popular than it currently is.  We didn’t wet ourselves and we didn’t hide. We waded into the fight, picked up the glove, and in the end we won.  Winning back trust after losing popularity means even more work now than before.  We had to struggle for three years for the country, which was threatened by financial collapse.  Now, economically speaking we have risen ourselves up to be among the three best-performing countries in the EU.  There is no western analysis that does not acknowledge our economic results, we, however, fall into the mistake of entertaining doubts.  There is no reason for this.  We are on a good path.   We don’t have to be afraid.  We have to work!

The decrease in household utility costs was the Fidesz panacea during the first cycle.  What is it you want to win over voters with now?

We continue to step in the direction of decreasing the cost of utility to the economy and the state.  We are decreasing court fees and we want to provide more services, all of this in a transparent manner.  We will do everything so that economic actors, especially industry, can obtain cheap electricity.  The government’s goal is for us to be the strongest country in the region.  In the interest of improving economic competitiveness we are going to reform technical training, improve the educational system and modernize the country.   European Union taxpayers are providing enormous material support for this. A strong state is needed.  A decrease in bureaucracy on the other hand increases competitiveness.  There will be more debates on this, but an efficient, cheap and well-functioning state is worth a political fight.

How many positions will be eliminated over the course of decreasing bureaucracy?

There are 198 prefectures (járás) in the country.  By the end of 2015 we will create 260 government windows.  The prefecture structure works well, it is close to the people.  By contrast 925,000 people work in state administration, while at the same time four million pay taxes.  Three million taxpayers maintain the current bureaucracy.  Furthermore, this is a reverse pyramid:  the higher we go, the more workers there are.   There are two bosses for every worker who meets with citizens and customers.  This is unacceptable.  Today for example there are 3,500 directors for 26,000 government office employees.   This cannot be called reasonable.  For this reason there is no point in talking about how many should be dismissed, because there are areas that need to be downsized and there are ones where it is necessary to hire people.   It is the job of the state to serve the people, which is why we need to deal with matters that interest the voters, and which improves the quality of their lives, like strengthening the system of local practitioners, or preventative medicine.  Or whether for social security somebody who regularly goes for a screening test represents the same risk as someone who does not.  How can the state motivate someone to deal with sickness through prevention and preliminary control?   I could cite examples of public transportation as well for which we need to use our time, energy and trust.

When will the restructuring of public transportation start?  What changes should travelers expect?

We want to organize state services on the level of prefectures, and in this way we are modifying the health education centers.   Many governments have undertaken the reform of health, education and social systems, but no one has ever reconciled this with a transportation map of Hungary.  We would like to achieve when talking about health reform that we also discuss how patients get to a given hospital.  There are places where it is necessary to reorganize the trains and the bus services, but there are also parts of the country where it is not possible to use public transportation, where it is only possible to get to a treatment center by car.   We have to change the practice by which Volán (the national bus company) has ignored the needs of the traveling public for years when preparing schedules.  We need to organize a unified, country-public transportation system in which train and bus schedules are harmonized.  It is outrageous that twenty-five years after the system change there are still unresolved issues.

It is as though you are not speaking as a minister but still as a mayor.

If you you see it like that, then that is a compliment.  The Prime Minister expects me to deal with these matters.  I do this with the enthusiasm and vehemence characteristic of me as a mayor.  I look for solutions because I learned over the past 15 years that you can neither govern a society without people nor against people.   My style is too fast or too determined for some people.  I am convinced that it is only possible to serve the country’s interest with this kind of purposeful politics and a lot of work.

Reference:

http://magyarhirlap.hu/cikk/12905/Lazar_Janos_Dolgozni_kell_nem_szabad__elbizonytalanodni#sthash.6kFhYKaZ.dpuf

Assistant Undersecretary Victoria Nuland’s keynote address at the 2014 U.S.-Central Europe Strategy Forum

Yesterday Victoria Nuland,  assistant undersecretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, delivered the keynote address at a conference organized by the Center for European Policy Analysis’s U.S.-Central Europe Strategy Forum. Just as the conference was winding down, I published a short summary of  the relevant passages of her speech that were addressed in part to Viktor Orbán and his government. She mentioned neither Orbán nor Hungary by name, but everybody in the audience knew whom she was talking about.

I consider her speech to be so important that I decided to republish itAfter all, few people will bother to search the U.S. State Department’s website for the text of Nuland’s speech. The couple of sentences devoted to the Hungarian government’s harassment of NGOs by President Bill Clinton or the remark by President Obama on the same topic were limited in scope. On the other hand, Victoria Nuland’s short speech outlines U.S. positions on vital issues concerning the East-Central European region and contains criticism of an unnamed politician whose domestic and foreign policies fail to meet with the approval of the United States. This politician is described as one who, among other things, pushes illiberal democracy and cuts dirty energy deals. Only one politician fits the bill: Viktor Orbán. 

* * *

Keynote at the 2014 U.S.-Central Europe Strategy Forum

Victoria Nuland
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs

stateThank you, Wess, for that introduction. It’s good to be here with you today with Minister Lajcak. Like me, Miro is still recovering from UNGA, the “World Cup” of diplomacy; or as we like to say at State: the diplomatic equivalent of speed dating. Our thanks to CEPA for your great work to strengthen our transatlantic bond with Central Europe. In just 9 years, CEPA has become the “go-to” think tank in Washington for those who care about a democratic, prosperous, secure Central Europe.

This fall, as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, we are also reminded that two and a half decades ago, the countries of Central Europe inspired the world by seizing a moment of hope and transforming it into freedom and opportunity for tens of millions of people.

Across Central Europe, citizens stood up for the right to hold free elections; they built strong, independent institutions; and fostered civil society and a vibrant media.

They did the hard work of reforming their economies, stabilizing currencies, privatizing inefficient industries, opening up labor markets, and welcoming foreign investment. In short, they restored liberal democracy to the heart of the continent.

And they proved the skeptics wrong. In successive waves of NATO and EU enlargement 5, 10 and 15 years ago, they extended the boundaries of our Euro-Atlantic family and the values it represents.

We live in a better world because the countries of Central Europe chose the path of a Europe whole, free and at peace 25 years ago. But today that choice is under threat, and Central Europe is once again on the frontline in the fight to protect our security and values. And today, that fight is once again both external and internal.

Let’s look at these in turn.

First, the external threats: President Obama said in New York last week Russia’s aggression in Ukraine threatens to take us back to the days when large countries could trample small ones at will. Because the countries of Central Europe understand the danger better than most, almost all of them have been among the strongest and most generous in support of Ukraine’s right to choose its own future, and live in a more democratic, clean, free and prosperous country.

They have offered assistance and advice to Ukraine, security support, and even, as Slovakia has done, reversed the flow of gas to help fill Ukraine’s winter storage tanks. And most have been strong advocates inside the EU for the sanctions the Transatlantic community has put on Russia for its actions.

Today we must maintain that solidarity with Ukraine and unity within the Transatlantic community. Implementing sanctions isn’t easy and many countries are paying a steep price. We know that. But history shows that the cost of inaction and disunity in the face of a determined aggressor will be higher. The history of Central Europe itself teaches us that. So when leaders are tempted to make statements that tear at the fabric of our resolve, I would ask them to remember their own national history, and how they wished their neighbors had stood with them.

Ukraine is working hard to promote peace and change to meet its people’s expectations. It is fulfilling its commitments under the September 5 Minsk agreement—it passed amnesty legislation, a special status law for the east, and is working with Russia to demarcate the special status zone.

Now Russia and its proxies must do their part – withdraw their forces and all the heavy weapons that have flooded the east, restore Ukrainian sovereignty on the international border, withdraw heavy weapons there too, and return all the hostages—notably, including Nadiya Savchenko and Oleg Sentsov. When the Minsk agreement is fully implemented, we can and will begin to roll back some sanctions. It is in Russia’s hands when that day comes.

Every country in the CEPA space has made tough sacrifices. And as you stand with Ukraine, we stand with you. The United States’ commitment to NATO’s Article 5 is unwavering. As President Obama said at Tallinn, “we will defend our NATO Allies, and that means every Ally.” Our allies, in turn, are working to fulfill the pledge they made at Wales to reverse the decline in defense spending.

Even as we stand against Russia’s threat to Ukraine’s European choice, we must recognize that ISIL’s threat to our security, prosperity and values is also real, also immediate. Even in the Euro-Atlantic space, nobody’s immune. That’s why today the nations of Central Europe are joining the global coalition to degrade and destroy ISIL’s terrorism, contributing ammunition, training, humanitarian assistance and countering ISIL’s hateful ideology. All of us must do more to harden the Transatlantic space and make it a “no-go” zone for ISIL recruitment and finance.

When we pass anti-terror laws to keep our citizens from joining the fight, whether that fight is in Rakka or Luhansk, it is our values and way of life we are protecting: rule of law, state sovereignty, peace and security, individual human rights and dignity.

And just as we work together to defend our values externally, we must fortify them internally. In Central Europe today, I would argue, the internal threats to democracy and freedom are just as worrying. Across the region, the twin cancers of democratic backsliding and corruption are threatening the dream so many have worked for since 1989. And even as they reap the benefits of NATO and EU membership, we find leaders in the region who seem to have forgotten the values on which these institutions are based.

So today I ask their leaders: How can you sleep under your NATO Article 5 blanket at night while pushing “illiberal democracy” by day; whipping up nationalism; restricting free press; or demonizing civil society! I ask the same of those who shield crooked officials from prosecution; bypass parliament when convenient; or cut dirty deals that increase their countries’ dependence on one source of energy despite their stated policy of diversification.

As President Obama noted, oppressive governments are sharing “worst practices to weaken civil society.” They are creating wormholes that undermine their nations’ security, freedom and prosperity. The countries of Central Europe—through the EU and nationally—must remain vigilant. We can only be strong when we protect political pluralism, civil society and the right to dissent within our own borders; when our governments are clean, transparent and accountable to the people they serve.

For more than 20 years, Central Europe has been the canary in the coal mine for the promise of a Europe whole, free and at peace. The example set by the countries of this region has also inspired others around the world that they, too, can fight for democracy, free markets, rule of law and human dignity. As the President said in Warsaw in June, “The blessings of liberty must be earned and renewed by every generation – including our own.” We must renew our commitment today – to our citizens and to each other; at home and around the world. We are stronger together, and many around the world who crave the same freedom we enjoy are depending on us.

* * * 

What was the reaction in Budapest to this very harsh criticism of Viktor Orbán and his regime? The spokeswoman of the Hungarian Ministry of Trade and Foreign Affairs told journalists that, according to Péter Szijjártó, “the people of Central Europe have suffered under communist dictatorship and fought for their freedom and for the reunification of Europe.” The region is inhabited by freedom-loving people who surely wouldn’t allow their freedom to be curtailed. Hungary looks upon the United States as a friend and “our alliance is rock solid.”

Interestingly enough, the speech was also the topic of political debate in Romania. According to the Romanian Social Democratic Party, Victoria Nuland’s remarks were addressed only to the Hungarian prime minister. Prime Minister Victor Ponta stated that it was surely not Romania that harassed the NGOs. It was the Hungarian government that limited freedom of the media. It was Hungary that stopped sending gas to Ukraine, and it is Viktor Orbán who has a unique relationship with Vladimir Putin. Romania supports Moldova and Ukraine and helps its neighbors with their energy needs. President Traian Băsescu, a political opponent of Victor Ponta, thinks otherwise. He is certain that Nuland was also talking about Romania, especially when she referred to corruption as a threat to national security. 

In my opinion the bulk of the criticism was directed at Hungary, but corruption unfortunately is everywhere in this part of the world. 

Apparently Péter Szijjártó will meet Victoria Nuland during his forthcoming visit to Washington. I would not like to be in his shoes. Victoria Nuland is one tough lady.