Tag Archives: Charles Gati

Charles Gati: Friedman’s “kapo” comment should disqualify him as ambassador to Israel

Charles Gati is a senior research professor of European and Eurasian Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. He is also a regular reader of and commentator on Hungarian Spectrum. This opinion piece originally appeared in The Hill on February 28, 2017.

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I am a Holocaust survivor. I was not yet 10 years old in 1944 when my parents and I were locked up in the Budapest ghetto, where some 15 of us lived in one small room. We were cold, hungry and lived in constant fear of being taken away and killed.

My parents and I were initially saved by Carl Lutz, the courageous Swiss diplomat who rescued some 62,000 Hungarian Jews by providing them with letters of protection. In helping the Jews of Hungary, he defied his government’s orders.

As a mark of respect for Lutz’s memory, and also in honor of those members of my family who did not survive, I object to President Trump’s choice of David Friedman as the next ambassador to Israel.

Friedman does not merely hold radical views outside the American mainstream and lack foreign policy credentials; he also negatively compared American Jews who don’t share his positions to “kapos.”

I doubt that Friedman understands who the kapos really were. They were Jews enlisted by the Nazi SS during the Holocaust to serve the SS in the concentration and extermination camps as well as in the ghettos.

They were given a choice between collaboration and death. Some behaved with great brutality in order to survive. Others did the best they could to help themselves and to help us, too. While I do not excuse their actions, no one who was not there in those unimaginable conditions has the right to pass judgment.

Is Friedman sure he knows what he would have done?

To be fair, I don’t know what I would have done. I did not personally experience the camps. With my parents, I evaded deportation thanks largely to the papers provided by Lutz, the Swiss consul-general to Budapest at the time and truly a Righteous Among the Nations.

But my father’s older brother Lajos Gottlieb and his wife disappeared during those dark days and we never heard from them again. My father’s other brother Zsigmond Gellért and his teenage son Gábor were taken to Auschwitz and died there. Zsigmond’s wife — my Aunt Ferike — and her daughter Vera — my first cousin — were also deported to Auschwitz, but survived.

I give their names to make an important point: the Holocaust, the kapos and their many victims are not metaphors or abstractions.

For Friedman to brand other Jews engaged in legitimate debate in our democracy as kapos is not only offensive; it shows a disturbing lack of knowledge.

It borders on incredulous to believe Friedman’s sudden reversal during his Senate Foreign Relations Committee testimony of what he had previously professed.

Despite his last-minute about-face during his hearing, I continue to doubt that Friedman understands who the kapos were. If he did, he would recognize that the damage caused by his hurtful and mean-spirited comments could not be walked back over during a few hours of public testimony.

Watching his testimony for several hours, I had the impression that under his calculating, lawyerly demeanor was an agitator eager to be confirmed as an ambassador.

Worst of all, by freely throwing around words that have a specific meaning in the context of a specific historical event, Friedman dilutes the meaning of the Holocaust and dishonors the memory of those who perished.

Using this term to describe one’s political opponents actually aids the work of Holocaust deniers because it suggests that kapos are an everyday phenomenon that arise in every generation — and not a tragic group of people caught in a uniquely agonizing dilemma during the Holocaust.

To serve in Israel, in particular, we need diplomats in the cast of Carl Lutz who use their office to do good. That is why — for the sake of American interests and values and also for the sake of history and memory — I hope the Senate does not vote to confirm David Friedman’s appointment.

March 2, 2017

A more fitting celebration of the 60th anniversary of ’56 in Washington

About a week ago I included a sentence about the reception Réka Szemerkényi, Hungarian Ambassador in Washington, was giving for the sixtieth anniversary of the outbreak of the October Revolution. I reported that to the best of my knowledge a number of important American officials serving in the White House, Congress, and State Department had declined the invitation over concerns about the alarming political developments in Hungary. In addition to their general concerns, they may well have also noticed the systematic falsification of Hungarian history, which includes the events of the ’56 uprising as well. Mária Schmidt, Viktor Orbán’s court historian who had already perverted the history of the Hungarian Holocaust, rewrote the history of the revolution for the anniversary. The result is a monstrosity that bears no resemblance to reality.

This assault on the revolution prompted a group of people in Washington to organize a gathering to celebrate the real events of sixty years ago. They chose not to celebrate with those who claim that executed Imre Nagy “died nicely but wasn’t a hero.” Yes, this is a direct quotation from the chief organizer of the anniversary, Mária Schmidt. Thomas Melia (who as deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, had extensive dealings with Hungary), former Hungarian Ambassador to Washington András Simonyi, and Professor Charles Gati of Johns Hopkins University organized the event that took place last night. About forty people attended, including Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security adviser; Charles Kupchan, currently special assistant to the president and senior director for European affairs at the National Security Council; Damian Murphy, senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs and her husband, Robert Kagan, well-known author, columnist and foreign policy commentator; Hoyt Yee, deputy assistant secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs; André Goodfriend, chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest between August 2015 and January 2016;  Jackson Diehl, deputy editorial page editor of the Washington Post, who writes many of the paper’s editorials on foreign affairs; and Pál Maléter, Jr. son of the minister of defense in the last Nagy government who was reburied along with Imre Nagy on June 16, 1989. Anthony Blinken, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, couldn’t make it but sent his greetings.

Professor Gati briefly retold the story of the revolution, which is admittedly complex because the intellectual unrest that preceded it began as a factional struggle in the communist party between the Stalinists and the reformers but quickly led to a coalition government in which four parties were represented. This coalition government, which naturally included the communist party, decided to leave the Warsaw Pact. Gati emphasized that the revolution was “profoundly democratic—demanding freedom of the press and checks and balances (called ‘socialist legality’ )—and profoundly pro-Europe. These demands were at the top of the list presented by the students.”

One of the few pictures of members of the Nagy government: Zoltán Tildy, Imre Nagy, and Pál Maléter

One of the few pictures of members of the Nagy government: Zoltán Tildy, Imre Nagy, and Pál Maléter

Of course, we know that the Orbán regime’s narrative is very different: the revolution was transformed into an anti-communist crusade led by right-wing representatives of the pre-1945 period. Those intellectuals who were disillusioned communists were removed from the historical narrative prepared for the anniversary celebrations, as were social democrats and liberals. As if they never existed. They simply don’t fit into Orbán’s worldview.

Professor Gati then moved on to the situation in Hungary today and brought up the speeches of Péter Boross and László Kövér. “This Monday, the speaker of the Hungarian parliament blamed the United States not Moscow for crushing the revolution while another high official spoke of the heinous deeds of U.S. imperialism,” adding “I’m not making this up.” And, Gati continued: “Even in Washington, where Hungarian officials work hard to mislead us by praising transatlantic relations, on Sunday they somehow forgot to read Vice President Joe Biden’s message to their invited guests; I guess their feelings were hurt that they didn’t hear from President Obama.”

Gati told his personal story as a refugee after the revolution. “I came here penniless and was treated fantastically by everyone: the International Rescue Committee, Indiana University, and various employees of Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University, even the State Department.” He recalled that the quota for Hungarians (4,400) was quickly filled but that within days Congress was authorized to allow another 40,000 Hungarian refugees to come. He contrasted this behavior with the situation today. In Hungary they build a razor wire fence to keep refugees out and even in the United States some people contemplate building walls. “My hope is that the old spirit of generosity will guide us again someday soon. There is another Hungary there that deserves our attention and support,” he concluded. I think that every Hungarian refugee should join Charles Gati in remembering the generosity of Austrians, Germans, Brits, Swedes, Swiss, Canadians, Australians, and Americans in those days and feel profoundly sad at the behavior of the Hungarian government, which incited ordinary Hungarians against the refugees.

I should add that Anita Kőműves, a young journalist who used to work for Népszabadság, happened to be in Washington and was invited to speak. The applause that followed her words honored those journalists who paid for their bravery with their livelihood because Viktor Orbán doesn’t believe in a free press, one of the very first demands of the Hungarian students in 1956.

October 28, 2016

Charles Gati on Hungarian foreign policy: It is hard to sell junk

Professor Charles Gati of the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University has just returned from a lecture tour in Central Europe and Italy.  After Bologna, Prague, and Berlin he visited Budapest where Gábor Horváth, foreign policy editor of Népszabadság, interviewed him.

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Gábor Horváth: There is quite a lot of chaos all over the world, but can one discover some system in it?

Charles Gati: For the time being there isn’t. A new order is in the making and it is not yet clear where all this will lead. One thing is sure: the United States will remain the dominant world power but with less influence than it had during the cold war. Europe as a unified political player has been considerably weakened. Russia can exert influence on the territories of the former Soviet Union but elsewhere less so, and China is incapable of coping with the problem of combining capitalism with an autocratic political system.

GH: During your Central European and Italian lecture tour you talked about international problems, from the barbarism of the Islamic State to the inertness of the United States and posed the question: what do they have in common? What is your conclusion?

CG: What they have in common is that, in comparison to earlier decades, the United States of President Obama has assumed less and less of its earlier role in world affairs. The United States has become weary of the role it played during the last six or seven decades, especially because at the beginning of the twenty-first century it made a lot of mistakes, even committed crimes. The other common feature is the rise of nationalism everywhere in the world against integrating developments. After 1945, especially in Europe, encouraging revolutionary changes occurred as a result of integration, but now because of its deficiencies a counterrevolutionary, nationalist, demagogic surge is taking place.

GH: Can one make a conjecture about the new world in the making?

CG: The most important characteristic of this new world, especially in Europe and America, is that the political, business, and educational elites slowly but surely have lost their earlier influence. The free-wheeling freedom of the internet is playing an enormous role in that development. Today, throughout the world the view prevails that everybody’s opinion is just as important as everybody else’s. That is, the value of knowledge, experience, and expertise has decreased. A further problem is that the discussions have moved beyond civilized boundaries. Certain anonymously published arguments–not to mention crude invectives—would have been unimaginable twenty years ago or would have appeared only rarely.

gati-nepszabadsag

GH: Do those who criticize “political correctness” appeal to this phenomenon?

CG: Partly, and they use the conceit of the ignorant who think that freedom can be invoked for everything. Naturally, I am not an opponent of freedom, but I regret that on the side of knowledge, experience, and civilized behavior there is no normal way of combating demagoguery and malicious opinions. I also regret that the Lenin’s infamous saying, “Those who are not with us are against us,” is becoming more accepted. Anyone who is critical becomes an enemy.

GH: It is impressive that at the age of 80, while gradually retiring from teaching, you decided to enroll in a two-year course as a student of psychoanalysis. Does it help to understand the behavior of people and societies?

CG: That is a complicated topic but I would mention just one example. I find Sigmund Freud’s short masterpiece, Civilization and Its Discontents, very timely. In this book Freud discusses the necessity of defending civilization from the violent instincts that induce mankind to commit murder. My studies have given me an opportunity to get to know various clinical symptoms, which also emerge in politics. But analyses of individuals can be done only by those with a greater knowledge of the subject, and even they can do it only in private. Although several people have asked me to analyze the psyche of Vladimir Putin or Viktor Orbán from afar, I have declined.

GH: I will not ask you to do that. What can Hungary do to lessen the risk of this transitional period?

CG: We mustn’t forget the significant achievements of earlier decades. The present excessive criticisms of the European Union ignore the fact that after 1945 for seventy years—first in the western part of the continent—there was peace and prosperity. That was the result of integration, which is more important than the fact that the bureaucracy in Brussels makes occasional mistakes or acts beyond its power. We shouldn’t judge the European Union’s achievements by the stupid regulations concerning the size of a banana. The overestimation of the role of the nation states strikes me as historical amnesia. After all, we know from the history of Europe what kinds of catastrophic wars swept across the continent prior to the modern integrative efforts.

GH: You left for the United States sixty years ago, and looking back on your career you have succeeded. Today the Hungarian government, and with it many people, fear mass immigration. What explains this panic and what should the task of the government be?

CG: After 1956, 50,000 Hungarian refugees arrived in America. The reception was friendly and people were ready to help. I have only good memories. Others might remember differently; after all, the far-right press often talked about possible Hungarian or Soviet spies among the refugees. But there had been anti-Irish and, later, anti-Italian sentiment. And at the beginning of the twentieth century there was antagonism against the Jewish immigrants, who were accused of being influenced by communist ideology. A minority of people have always been afraid of “otherness.” So, I understand that when so many unfortunate refugees come from the Near East who are not white, not Christians or Jewish, it is easy to say that they don’t belong to Europe or America. There is some truth in that, but at the same time the teachings of Christianity and Judaism and the moral dictates of the irreligious oblige us to aid those in need. That’s why I was impressed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s gesture, who went to the airport to welcome the Syrian refugees.

GH: The Hungarian government, together with the Russian, Iranian and Zimbabwean, hopes for Donald Trump’s electoral victory. Not the best company. Was it a wise move to commit ourselves?

CG: In the United States only a couple of officials in the State Department or perhaps a few sharp-eyed journalists have noticed that Viktor Orbán has lined up behind Trump. The real problem is the general state of the relationship and not whether the Hungarian prime minister prefers the Republicans. I find this approach incomprehensible. You may recall that Orbán also supported the candidacy of John McCain, who subsequently called him a neo-fascist dictator. It would be better not to get involved in American domestic politics because the Hungarian leadership, as well as the right-wing press, is super sensitive to any criticism coming from the European Union or America.

GH: According to some, the deterioration of U.S-Hungarian relations outright endangers the security of the country. Is there any chance that relations between the two countries would move away from the current low point?

CG: It is a great pity that not even such a talented diplomat as Ambassador Réka Szemerkényi, who received her degree from my university, can overcome the hurdles in the way of better relations. Not even the best businessman can successfully sell junk. We are talking about the quality of the goods, that is, the ever-weakening state of Hungarian democracy and the ever-expanding system of Russian-Hungarian relations. As long as there is no change in these two areas, I don’t see a chance for improved relations. As long as this is the case, it matters not who the ambassador is because the problem is basically a structural one.

October 5, 2016

The Hungarian right-wing media’s attack on the United States and its ambassador, Colleen Bell

Right after Viktor Orbán’s last Friday morning radio interview on October 30, when he mentioned George Soros’s name in connection with civil activists’ work with the asylum seekers, one of the many headlines on the topic read: “Viktor Orbán has taken aim at George Soros instead of Colleen Bell.” The journalist was wrong. Viktor Orbán ordered an attack on both.

A couple of days ago I covered in broad outline the attack on George Soros. And earlier I reported on U.S. Ambassador Colleen Bell’s speech, which seemed to have come as a surprise to the Hungarian government. Or at least this was the impression government propaganda tried to convey. Slowly, however, the truth has come out. Bell informed Jenő Megyesy, Viktor Orbán’s American-Hungarian adviser, about the kind of speech she would be delivering at Corvinus University. Moreover, as it turned out, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó and Ambassador Bell frequently consult by phone, sometimes several times a week. Surely, the American position couldn’t have been a secret to either the officials of the ministry of foreign affairs or the prime minister’s office.

Only two important government officials commented on the speech: Péter Szijjártó and János Lázár, head of the prime minister’s office. Both accused the United States of meddling in another country’s internal affairs when it calls the Hungarian government’s attention to its abandonment of democratic norms. But does the United States transgress the boundary of diplomatic rules when such criticism is leveled against Hungary? Not at all. Here I would like to thank Professor Kim Scheppele for calling my attention to the Moscow Document. In 1991 all member states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe agreed to the following statement: “The participating States emphasize that issues relating to human rights, fundamental freedoms constitutes one of the foundations of the international order. They categorically and irrevocably declare that the commitments undertaken in the field of the human dimension of the CSCE are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the State concerned.” Hungary was a signatory to this document.

Even if government officials try to ignore references to Colleen Bell’s speech, instructions surely have reached the new government media. As we know from the new editor-in-chief of Magyar Nemzet, before the falling out between Orbán and Simicska its staff was instructed by the government, sometimes twice weekly, about the “proper” presentation of the news and the tone of the editorials. So, we can be sure that whatever we read in publications like Magyar Idők, Pesti Srácok, or 888.hu reflects the opinion of the Orbán government.

diplomacy

The first attack on Colleen Bell came from Magyar Idők, which learned “from American sources” that Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. State Department, is dissatisfied with Ambassador Bell because she is not tough enough on the Orbán government. That’s why she is being called back to Washington for consultation. Well, no she isn’t being called back. She is going on a private visit, and naturally while in the United States she will pay a visit to the State Department.

This article, written by László Szőcs, formerly of Népszabadság, was outright polite in comparison to another piece that seems to reflect the opinion of the editorial staff. This second article is full of surprises because here Victoria Nuland is portrayed as the accomplice of George Soros. What is the connection? Believe it or not, it is Ukraine. The leading lights of Magyar Idők, who come from the hard-core Orbán worshippers at the old Magyar Nemzet, are fiercely pro-Russian and thus anti-Ukrainian. In this article both Nuland and Soros are accused of supporting the “bloody revolution of Maidan” in order “to build true democracy in Ukraine.” Soros, according to Magyar Idők, wants a similar fate for Europe. He wants to “bring the Arab Spring to our continent and change the current political systems of individual countries.” And he’s trying to achieve his devilish plan with the help of Viktoria Nuland.

Ottó Gajdics, one of the editors of Magyar Idők, was chosen to deliver an ugly personal attack on the U.S. ambassador, accusing her of having a low IQ. He also points to the Orbán-phobia of Victoria Nuland. In fact, Hungary is “one of the best allies of the United States in the region,” but these people find two serious problems with Hungary. One is that it is right-wing and nationalist, and as such is not ready to “serve the global ambitions of the superpower.” Their other problem with Hungary is that its government has too strong a legitimacy. Ever since 2010 the United States has done its best to foist upon Hungary a policy that would serve the interests of the United States. “But the country has resisted these most shameless attempts at interference by the giant who believes itself to be the policeman of the globe.”

Right after the Bell speech that made such waves in Hungary, Professor Charles Gati gave an interview to Gábor Horváth of Népszabadság. In it, Gati expressed his bafflement over the Orbán government’s foreign policy. As he put it, “There are two countries which are important from the Hungarian perspective. One is the United States, which guarantees the country’s security through NATO. The other is Germany, which is of key economic importance. Both countries are quite popular among Hungarians and yet the government lately has been attacking both. I simply don’t understand Hungarian foreign policy when the government rants against Chancellor Merkel and the United States. This is not in Hungary’s national interest.”

A few days ago three foreign policy experts got together at Corvinus University to discuss Hungarian foreign policy: Géza Jeszenszky, foreign minister (1990-1994) and ambassador to Washington (1998-2002); Péter Balázs, foreign minister (2009-2010); and Tamás Magyarics, ambassador to Ireland (2010-2014). They all agreed that having bad relations with the United States and the European Union is not smart. Perhaps the best description of Viktor Orbán’s foreign policy came from Péter Balázs, who likened the Hungarian government to a teenager going through puberty: insecure and oversensitive, confused. “Like a troubled teenager who turns against his family, makes friends with the wrong kind of people, neglects his studies, loses touch with his cousins who live beyond the borders, and is friendly with those who actually treat him badly.”

Unfortunately, I don’t see any inclination on the part of the Orbán government to change its course. If anything, the opposite is true. The attacks multiply and the volume is being turned up every day. Instead of finding common ground, Orbán hopes to change the atmosphere in Washington by courting Republican lawmakers with the assistance of Connie Mack, a former congressman and now lobbyist. Millions of dollars are being spent on Mack’s meager achievements. After all, the administration is still in Democratic hands, and criticism of the State Department by a few Republican congressmen will not make the slightest difference. But more about this tomorrow.

The sorry state of Hungarian foreign policy

This morning I listened to lectures delivered at a conference,”Az elszigetelt Magyarország és a globális világ” (Isolated Hungary and the Global World), that took place on Friday. The conference was organized by Attila Ara-Kovács, who is currently heading the foreign policy “cabinet” of the Demokratikus Koalíció (DK) and who earlier worked in the foreign ministry under László Kovács. Ara-Kovács was joined by Charles Gati, professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, for a conversation centering on U.S.-Hungarian relations. Mátyás Eörsi, who was undersecretary of foreign affairs between 1997 and 1999, assessed the Orbán government’s foreign policy and came to the conclusion that as such it doesn’t really exist. Ferenc Gyurcsány delivered a short speech in which he insisted that the whole political system built by Viktor Orbán must be dismantled. There is no possibility of changing the current foreign policy strategy because that would mean a denial of “the essence of the system.” Zoltán Sz. Biró, an expert on Russia, delivered a fascinating lecture on the state of the Russian economy. Finally, Zoltán Balázs, a political scientist whose sympathies lie with the right of center, offered a few critical remarks, saying among other things that the speakers had ignored the resilience of Orbán’s followers. Orbán may go but his devoted admirers remain, and for them Hungary’s martyr complex is very much a reality. I can strongly recommend these lectures to anyone who understands the language.

Zoltán Sz. Biró, while outlining the grave Russian economic situation, expressed his surprise at the ignorance of Hungarian policymakers about the real state of affairs in Russia. Don’t they ever look at the economic and financial data available online? Obviously not, because otherwise Viktor Orbán and Péter Szijjártó should have been more cautious in their approach toward Moscow. But behind their Russia policy is Viktor Orbán’s mistaken notion of “the decline of the West” and thus he put all his eggs in one basket. By now it looks as if even the enlargement of Paks will come to naught.

As for the diplomatic corps, according to Mátyás Eörsi fear is widespread because of the hundreds of “pink slips” handed out to old-timers with diplomatic experience at the foreign ministry in the wake of János Martonyi’s departure. One “bad” sentence and the person’s job is in jeopardy. Thus, nobody offers any opinion that might differ from that of the “diplomatic expert,” Viktor Orbán.

Ferenc Gyurcsány and M. André Goodfriend at the Conference on Hungary in Isolation and the Global World

Ferenc Gyurcsány and M. André Goodfriend at the Conference on Hungary in Isolation and the Global World

The housecleaning was so thorough that Szijjártó proudly announced that “we will lay the foundations of the new Hungarian foreign policy irreversibly, once and for all.” They will not retreat but forge ahead according to what they consider to be Hungary’s economic interest. Two weeks later it was announced that out of the staff of 900 at the ministry more than 200 will be fired, including some who were brought in by Tibor Navracsics a few months earlier. As a result there is total chaos in the ministry, whose new spokesman is a former sports reporter.

Not only is the ministry’s staff decimated but certain background institutions like the Magyar Külügyi Intézet (Hungarian Institute of Foreign Affairs) no longer exist since its entire research staff resigned en bloc. The administration is in the throes of “reorganization” of the institute. It’s no wonder that no one was prepared for the crisis in U.S.-Hungarian relations that came to the fore in mid-October.

By October and November there was such chaos in the ministry that some of the diplomats were certain that Szijjártó couldn’t possibly remain in his new position. Rumors circulated at the time that the ministry of foreign affairs and foreign trade would split into two ministries and that Szijjártó would be in charge of foreign trade only. This was probably a reflection of the long-suffering diplomats’ wishful thinking.

Others were convinced that Orbán will change his foreign policy orientation and will give up his anti-West rhetoric and policies. However, Attila Ara-Kovács in an article that appeared in Magyar Narancs outlined the impossibility of such a scenario. In the same article Ara-Kovács shed light on the atmosphere at the ministry of foreign affairs nowadays. An ambassador with close ties to Fidesz happened to be back in Hungary and wanted to talk to his superiors in the ministry. He was not allowed to enter the building because, as he was told by the security officer at the door, “you are on the list of those who are forbidden to wander around the corridors alone.”

Since then the situation has only gotten worse.  According to insiders, “in the last two months the chief preoccupation in the ministry is saving one’s job.” By October 34 ambassadors were sacked in addition to the hundreds who were fired earlier. János Martonyi, the previous foreign minister, because of his pro-trans-atlantic sentiments is considered to be a traitor and an American agent by those people who were brought in by Navracsics and Szijjártó from the ministry of justice and the prime minister’s office. Indicative of this new anti-American orientation, a recent order from the prime minister’s office required employees to report in writing all contacts with American diplomats over the last few years.

Szijjártó seems to have a free hand when it comes to personnel decisions. He created a job for a friend of his from the futsal team Szijjártó played on until recently. Despite no degree or experience, the futsal player will coordinate the work of the “minister’s cabinet.” For Szijjártó, as for the prime minister, it is “loyalty” that matters. Among the five undersecretaries there is only one with any diplomatic experience and he is, of all things, responsible for cultural and scientific matters. The newcomers don’t understand the world of diplomacy, so they’re creating their own rules. They are introducing a “new language” for diplomatic correspondence. They tell the old-timers that they mustn’t be “too polite” in official letters. Also, apparently they don’t consider it important to put conversations or decisions into writing. They think that a telephone conversation or perhaps an e-mail is enough. Therefore it is impossible to know what transpired between Hungarian and foreign diplomats. All that writing is cumbersome and slow. It seems that they want to follow the well-known practice of the Orbán government. A decision is made without any discussion and the next day the two-thirds majority passes the new law. But diplomacy doesn’t work that way. It is a delicate business.

Currently, I’m reading a biography of Benjamin Franklin in which his efforts at securing an alliance with France are described in some detail. It took him a year and a half to achieve that feat, which was vital for the young United States at war with Great Britain. And he was a seasoned diplomat. The new staff at the foreign ministry is decidedly unseasoned. Some of them haven’t even been schooled in foreign affairs, history, or political science. Believe it or not, two of the five undersecretaries have medical degrees. A rather odd background, I would say, for conducting foreign policy.

Diplomacy is the antithesis of everything that characterizes the Orbán government. For Viktor Orbán the “peacock dance,” which is basically nothing more than deceiving your negotiating partners, passes for diplomacy. And the new, “irreversible” foreign policy has already led Hungary to the brink of diplomatic disaster.

By the way, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires M. André Goodfriend, as you can see from the photo accompanying this post, attended the conference.

Two prominent Hungarians: Interviews with Charles Gati and Miklós Haraszti

Budapest Beacon, a bilingual online newspaper that reports on current events in Hungary, conducted a number of interviews with leading Hungarian analysts living or temporarily working in the United States. Herewith two of these: the first with Charles Gati, a renowned political scientist and senior research professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies; the second with Miklós Haraszti, a writer, human rights advocate, and former OSCE representative on Freedom of the Media.

Professor Gati’s interview was conducted in English, Mr. Haraszti’s in Hungarian. Since Gati’s main interest is international affairs and foreign policy, his interview focuses on American-Hungarian relations that are such a hot topic of late. Mr. Haraszti currently teaches at Columbia University, but because in 2012 he was appointed UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Belarus, the interview took place in the United Nations headquarters where Mr. Haraszti was due to report on his findings.

The interviewer is Benjamin Novak, an American Hungarian who currently lives in Hungary and is senior correspondent of Budapest Beacon. 

Attacks on Charles Gati and the American media

Charles Gati’s article “The Mask is Off”appeared on August 7 in The American Interest and a day later in Hungarian Spectrum. I guess readers will not be surprised to hear that it created quite a storm in Hungary, especially in the right-wing press. And in a counterattack Válasz published a piece by an Italian politician assailing Gati and whitewashing Viktor Orbán’s ideas on the “illiberal state.”

Let’s start with the reception of Gati’s article, which was not translated word for word but was extensively summarized in Népszabadság on the very day of its appearance. Other left-of-center publications followed suit. Two days later Magyar Nemzet, the unofficial mouthpiece of Fidesz, published an unsigned piece that condemned the article and accused Charles Gati of willfully misinterpreting Viktor Orbán’s concepts and of meddling in the internal affairs of Hungary. His article, it argued, was intended as an instrument of political pressure.

Magyar Nemzet reported on Hungarian reactions to the article, starting with Fidesz’s official position. The answer the paper received emphasized that “Hungary is an independent, democratic state whose government and prime minister were chosen by the Hungarian people.”

Magyar Nemzet, Fidesz if you wish, received additional ammunition from András Schiffer of LMP. After paying lip-service to the importance of checks and balances, Schiffer declared that “Hungary must be governed from Hungary and no matter how serious a situation was created by the ‘system of national cynicism’ it can be remedied only at home as a result of the will of the Hungarian people…. Those from overseas who entertain visions of a cultural war don’t realize that with their pronouncements they hurt the self-esteem of the Hungarian people and unwittingly extend Viktor Orbán’s stay in power.”

Magyar Nemzet also asked a “political scientist” from the Nézőpont Intézet who is a committed supporter of Fidesz and the current government. Gati’s article struck him as “desperate” and, he said, the “foreign misgivings” repeated by Gati “have been ordered” by unnamed foes of the Hungarian government. So, it seems, the sin Charles Gati committed was to dare to “meddle” in Hungarian affairs by voicing his opinion about Viktor Orbán’s regime and by outlining options the United States could pursue under the circumstances. András Schiffer, whose position vis-à-vis the Orbán government is anything but clear, was perhaps the most explicit: foreigners shouldn’t have “visions” about the Hungarian situation, especially since such criticism damages the self-esteem of the Hungarian people. But even the somewhat meaningless Fidesz statement makes a sharp enough distinction between “Hungarians” who have a right to express their opinions and foreigners who don’t.

But then what can we do with Viktor Orbán’s “vision” of the Hungarian nation as a “world-nation” (világnemzet)? This concept is supposed to express the unity of the Hungarian nation regardless of where these Hungarians happen to live. Of course, we all know the reason behind this generous gesture, and we also know the efforts the Orbán government made to limit the number of possible voters from the West while actively recruiting voters from Romania and Serbia. But still, he can’t have it both ways. Either those who are Hungarian by birth are part of the nation and can have a say in the governance of the country or not. Once the Orbán government extended that privilege and made all of us members of this wonderful world-nation he has to take the bad with the good. He cannot pick and choose.

Right-wing Hungarian media is convinced that Viktor Orbán is an innocent political target

The right-wing Hungarian media is convinced that Viktor Orbán is an innocent political target

As for foreign powers “meddling” in another country’s internal affairs, it happens all the time. Viktor Orbán in his long political career openly sided with George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney during U.S. presidential campaigns. But others are not supposed to speak their mind about Hungary. Even non-Hungarian Europeans know this. The pro-government Válasz published an article by Luca Volontè, an Italian Christian Democratic politician who was at one time the whip of the European People’s Party in the Council of Europe. Válasz gave this title to Volontè’s polemic against Charles Gati: “Hands Off Hungary!”

Luca Volontè is the only outsider the Orbán government managed to recruit so far. His article sounds not a little suspicious. Almost as if he received some help from Budapest. He seems to be too familiar with the current Hungarian political scene, and the interpretation of Orbán’s speech bears a suspicious resemblance to some of the Hungarian right-wing media’s efforts at explaining Orbán’s message away. We will see whether Fidesz will be able to gather a few more supporters from Europe. The emphasis is on Europe because the current Hungarian line is that in Europe the speech did not make waves; that happened only in the “anti-Hungarian” United States. In fact, Válasz‘s byline made it clear that the anti-Gati voice came from Europe.

And finally, an illustration of the right-wing media’s efforts to control the damage caused by Viktor Orbán’s speech. Today a brief exchange was published, also in Válasz, between Harold Meyerson and Zoltán Laky. Meyerson wrote an opinion piece on August 6 entitled “Hungary’s prime minister a champion for illiberalism” in The Washington Post. Laky, a journalist who obviously thinks that The Washington Post is the mouthpiece of the U.S. government just as Válasz is of the Hungarian government, wanted to know whether Meyerson received instructions concerning Viktor Orbán’s crossing the Rubicon with this speech either from the U.S. government or from the editors of The Washington Post. Meyerson set his Hungarian colleague straight. He has no idea what the U.S. government thinks of Viktor Orbán’s speech and, as far as The Washington Post is concerned, he is not an employee of the paper; the editors don’t even know what he will write about. He is an independent journalist. Yet the title of the Válasz article was titillating: “Permission to target Orbán? The journalist of The Washington Post speaks.”

As for damage control in the United States, I believe the Hungarian government’s chances are slim to none. Budapest can send a new ambassador, as it will in September, and it can spend millions of dollars on lobbying efforts, but its quest is hopeless as long as Viktor Orbán is the prime minister of the country. When the conservative Washington Times publishes an opinion piece entitled “Democracy’s dangerous descent in Hungary,” then Hungary’s chances in Washington are close to hopeless. Viktor Orbán managed to alienate even the paper that in the past usually defended his government.