Tag Archives: Donald Trump

The Congressional Hungarian-American Caucus: Documents

Today I will concentrate on the Congressional Hungarian-American Caucus which, according to the Hungarian Embassy in Washington, “provides a strong voice for Hungarian-American issues in Congress and seeks to promote constructive dialogue between Hungary and the 1.5 million Hungarian Americans in the United States.”

The Caucus was established in 2003 by the late Tom Lantos, Democratic congressman from California. After his death in 2008, the Caucus leadership was taken over by Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat, and Steve LaTourette, a moderate Republican, both from Ohio. At that time, in addition to the two chairmen, the Caucus had four members: two Republicans and two Democrats.

Shortly after the departure of the two chairmen in 2013, the leadership fell into the hands of an entirely new group of people. The Hungarian-American Caucus was “reconstituted.” Three new people took over the leadership: Andy Harris (R-MD), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), and David Joyce (R-OH). At that time, “the co-chairs congratulated Hungary on the adoption of its new constitution which closes an important chapter of its post-communist past and will help secure the freedoms and liberties of all of its citizens.” The press release indicated that the leadership was actually in the hands of Andy Harris, “the only Hungarian American currently serving in Congress.” Indeed, Andy Harris’s father, Zoltán, originally from Miskolc, emigrated to the United States in 1950. His mother’s family came from Poland. Harris feels that “Hungarians and Americans are bound inextricably together by their commitment to freedom and opportunity.”

The Caucus by now has 14 members, nine Republicans and five Democrats. Most of the Republicans in the Caucus are very conservative, beginning with Andy Harris himself. Almost all of them are Trump supporters, most of them are strong gun rights advocates and opponents of abortion and LGBT rights.

Harris, who is a medical doctor, was elected to congress in 2010 as part of the Tea Party wave. He joined the House’s Freedom Caucus, a gathering place for right-wing Republicans. He has been a great supporter of Donald Trump, and he endorsed Roy Moore for the Alabama Senate seat. While many conservatives withdrew their endorsement of Moore after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct when they were teenagers, Harris stood by him.

Harris has been very active as co-chair of the Hungarian-American Caucus. Last November he and two other Republican members of the Caucus addressed a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. In it, he complained about the speech that U.S. Chargé d’Affaires David Kostelancik delivered before members of the diplomatic corps and journalists at the headquarters of Magyar Újságírók Országos Szövetsége/National Association of Hungarian Journalists on October 17, 2017. I summarized the speech in a post written that day, but the complete text is available on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Budapest.

We don’t know the exact date of the letter, but on November 20 Magyar Idők reported that “American representatives stood by Hungary.” We learn from Hungarian sources that the letter was signed by Dennis Ross (R-FL), Andy Harris (R-MD, and Mike Coffmann (R-CO). Since the letter was never made public either in the United States or in Hungary, the Hungarian government must have learned the identities of the signatories from the leadership of the Congressional Hungarian-American Caucus.

In any case, on November 14 former senior members of the State Department, who had served both Republican and Democratic administrations, wrote a letter to the members of the Hungarian-American Caucus, standing by David Kostelancik. I’m sure you will recognize at least two of the authors of the letter: Rob Berschinski and Thomas O. Melia. I have written about both, the former in connection with the Bálint Hóman controversy and the latter in connection with the abuse he received from the Orbán government. The letter is reproduced below.

The second document is a so-called Dear Colleague letter, which is official correspondence sent by a member, committee, or officer of the United States House of Representatives or United States Senate and which is distributed in bulk to other congressional offices. This particular Dear Colleague letter is signed only by Andy Harris in his capacity as co-chair of the Hungarian-American Caucus. A day later Magyar Idők jubilantly reported that a “Republican representative urged the immediate improvement of American-Hungarian relations.” News travels fast, especially when there is a direct line of communication between Andy Harris’s Caucus and the Hungarian government.

I hope that the publication of these documents will shed some light on forces working in Washington on behalf of the illiberal Orbán administration.

ormer State Department Officials to Members of the Hungarian-American Caucus

November 14, 2017

Dear Members of the House Hungarian Caucus,

As former senior State Department officials who served both Republican and Democratic administrations, and proponents of a strong and vibrant U.S.-Hungary relationship, we write to express our strong support for U.S. Chargé d’affaires David Kostelancik’s recent remarks concerning the importance of Hungary maintaining a free, diverse, and independent media environment.

Time and again, our experiences in government demonstrated that the United States’ strongest, most durable alliances and partnerships are rooted in a common foundation of shared values and worldview. That premise stands at the heart of the NATO alliance, whose charter begins by affirming that alliance members “are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.”

The insight underpinning the North Atlantic Treaty underscores why we view with alarm the Hungarian government’s well-documented effort to erode many of the democratic institutions and rule of law-based protections established by the country’s citizens in the wake of Hungary’s emergence from communist rule.

In keeping with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s pledge to turn Hungary into an “illiberal state,” in recent years his government has all but eliminated the judiciary as an independent, co-equal branch of government. It has serially harassed non- governmental organizations, recently passing a law targeting civic organizations modeled on repressive Russian legislation. It has defied common decency in essentially criminalizing those fleeing persecution and war. It has made no secret of its desire to expand bilateral ties with Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, whose goals include the weakening of the European Union and NATO, and ending Western sanctions against Moscow. The government of Hungary has also dabbled in state- sponsored anti-Semitism, including by attempting the historical rehabilitation of fascist-aligned World War II-era figures, including the man responsible for the laws that ultimately led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews at Auschwitz.

In addition to these actions, the Hungarian government has unquestionably sought to circumscribe what was once a flourishing independent press.

The government of Viktor Orbán and its allies are engaged in a process that is systematically undercutting the country’s independent media outlets, all but a few of which have been shuttered or acquired by government-aligned actors in recent years and forced to censor their reporting.

A final fact is worth highlighting. The proximate context for Chargé Kostelancik’s speech of September 17, 2017 was this: on September 5, 2017, the pro-government Hungarian internet portal “888.hu” and other government-aligned media sources published a by-name list of eight journalists working for foreign media outlets.

These included reporters working for respected news sources like Reuters, Bloomberg, and Politico.

These journalists were described as “foreign propagandists,” and accused of working for George Soros, the American against whom the Hungarian government has launched a taxpayer funded national vilification campaign that has included plastering the country with posters reminiscent of the anti-Semitic tropes of the 1930s.

Among the eight journalists named as enemies seeking to “discredit” Hungary was an American citizen resident in Hungary, who subsequently began to receive death threats.

As you may know, just prior to his arrival in Budapest, Chargé Kostelancik spent a year on Capitol Hill as the senior State Department official at the U.S. Helsinki Commission, where he worked with Members of Congress to advance bipartisan foreign policy objectives through a comprehensive approach to security, which includes promotion of universal human rights.

In publicly defending press freedom as an essential safeguard in any democratic society, Chargé Kostelancik eloquently and responsibly spoke on behalf of a First Amendment value that Americans hold dear. He also stood up bravely for an American facing unconscionable threats. He did so in a nuanced, respectful manner, taking care to affirm the close ties that continue to bind the people of the United States and Hungary. His actions reflect the best in what it means to be an American diplomat serving the United States and our interests abroad.

We hope you will join us in celebrating his excellent remarks, the full text of which we’ve attached to this letter.

Sincerely,

David J. Kramer
Former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Tom Malinowski
Former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Thomas O. Melia
Former USAID Assistant Administrator for Europe & Eurasia

Daniel B. Baer
Former U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe

Rob Berschinski
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Attachment: Remarks by Chargé d’Affaires David Kostelancik, “Freedom of the Press: Enduring Values in a Dynamic Media Environment,” as prepared for delivery at the Hungarian Association of Journalists, October 17, 201

 

Andy Harris’s Dear Colleague letter

Request for Signature(s)

SIGN LETTER TO SUPPORT HUNGARIAN-AMERICAN RELATIONS

Overturn Obama Era Policy to Fund Media to Interfere in Hungarian Elections

Dear Colleagues,

Please join me in a letter to Secretary Tillerson urging him to take immediate steps to improve relations with Hungary.

As you may know, the Obama Administration cold-shouldered Hungary and distorted the record of its center-right government led by Prime Minister Victor OrbanUnder Obama, the State Department tried to turn Hungary into a pariah state, denying high-level meetings. Orban has been an outspoken defender of Western civilization and Hungary’s traditional values and cultural heritage – and the leading European voice against mass immigration and the hegemony of Brussels. At the same time Hungarians have ratified his leadership on these issues and his economic policies with repeated election victories. Most notably, under Orban’s direction, Hungary was the first member of the European Union to recognize the security crises represented by the uncontrolled flow of refugees into the EU and the his was the first government to take action to prevent that flow. Though heavily criticized at the time, Hungary’s erection of a border fence is now praised as a prudent and necessary measure to protect the integrity and security of not just Hungary, but the entire EU. Hungary under PM Orban has also been Israel’s strongest supporters in Europe.

Under President Trump, the policy has improved yet the Obama policy course has not been completely corrected. Most shocking, the State Department recently issued a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for a grant of up to $700,000 to support “objective media” to “lead to democratic reforms” in Hungary – in other words, the State Department seeks to fund opposition media in a democratic country that is a member of NATO and the EU. This represents the latest in a string of State Department actions insulting and undermining the center-right government of one of the United States’ closest allies in Europe.

As a co-chair of the Congressional Hungarian-American Caucus, I ask you to join me in encouraging the Secretary to ensure that implementation of the NOFO is immediately suspended and decisively  develop the natural alliance between the US and Hungary. Prime Minister Orban has been a vocal supporter of President Trump since early on in the campaign and Orban’s approaches to many policy issues including defense, security, antiterrorism, foreign policy or immigration closely mirror those of President Trump. Just as President Trump has declared “America First” so too has Hungary pursued its own national interests, many times in the face of liberal, Soros funded, opposition. Throughout that legitimate pursuit, the State Department has often interjected itself with critical statements of domestic policy issued in an official capacity. The NOFO represents an escalation in the State Department’s misguided antagonism of our democratic ally. To be added to this letter, please contact
Timothy.Daniels@mail.house.gov by
COB Wednesday, January 10th.

Sincerely,

Andy Harris, M.D.

January 13, 2018

Charles Gati: “Who the F*ck is this Viktor Orban?”

Professor Gáti in a light-hearted mood. Not long ago he started writing a weekly column in Népszava on life and politics in the United States. This particular piece, which appeared yesterday, was the most read article in the whole paper.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

 

FAKE NEWS EXCLUSIVE! President Donald J. Trump has recently dealt with U.S.-Hungarian relations.

Chief Adviser (CA): Mr. President! The Hungarian prime minister, a certain Viktor Orban, expects to be invited to the White House.

Donald J. Trump: Who the f*ck is Viktor Orban?

CA: He was a liberal at the end of the last century, he’s now illiberal. Once he was anti-Soviet, even anti-Russian, he’s now pro-Russian.

Trump: Sounds good to me. I adore Putin.

CA: Putin visits Budapest several times every year.

Trump: Where’s Budapest?

CA: It’s the capital of Hungary, northeast of Slovenia.

Trump: Oh, yes. Melania was born there, and one of my previous wives came from somewhere around there.

CA: Melania is of Slovenian origin, Ivana is of Czech origin.

Trump: Don’t lecture me. I know that. But what does this Orban know of us?

CA: There was a time when he looked up to America, but your predecessors refused to see him. Bill Clinton was his idol in the 1990s.

Trump: Anyone who likes a Clinton is a jerk.

CA: Excuse me, Mr. President! Times change. Before our elections last year, Orban came out for you, not for Mrs. Clinton. Nowadays he constantly attacks George Soros, the European Union, and the free press. He holds his opponents in contempt, obstructing their activities. His relations with Merkel are poor. His deputy has just compared a leader of the EU to Hitler.

Trump: So, he’s a lot like me. Does he read my tweets too?

CA: Mr. Orban has shown a preference for Facebook, that’s where he fights the enemy.

Trump: How come such a great guy has enemies?

CA: He has no enemies, he may even get himself reelected next spring, but he constantly seeks fights. His fans fall for this – and for him.

Trump: OK, let’s invite him. Tell him to rent two whole floors at the Trump Hotel. Full price, no discount.

CA: When should he come?

Trump: The sooner the better. Who knows our political future? We can be up today, down tomorrow.

CA: We do have a small problem, Mr. President. We don’t really know why Mr. Orban wants to visit with you, although according to some rumors he may be ready to buy American weapons.

Trump (sighs): It would be just great to sell him weapons, but Congress may refuse to permit such a sale. These folks in Congress take relations with a pro-Russian country quite seriously.

CA: The Hungarians don’t have such problems. Their Parliament is in Orban’s pocket. The reps there cling on his words. Most of the media is under his thump.

Trump: He’s a lucky guy. I wish I could be Hungary’s president. I’d make Orban my deputy.

CA: Should we make your wish part of the agenda then?

Trump: Absolutely! We will also discuss our amazing successes.  Then I’ll report on them on Tweeter, he’ll do it on Facebook. But if Orban states publicly that it’s the greatest honor of his life to meet me, we’ll go and play golf too.

CA: He plays soccer, can’t play golf.

Trump: In the age of fake news this is no problem at all. Golf? Soccer? What’s the difference? Fact is what I tweet. And my tweet will say that my historic encounter with Mr. Orban was an unparalleled success. Like everything else that I do.

December 21, 2017

The Orbán government is dragging its feet on the issue of Central European University

Over the last few months I have received several letters from readers of Hungarian Spectrum, wanting to know more about the status of Central European University, an English-language graduate school founded by George Soros, the bogeyman of the Orbán government. Unfortunately, I was unable to give any update on the fate of CEU because not much happened from May to late September.

Between February and May 2017 I devoted seven posts to the Hungarian government’s efforts to get rid of Central European University. It seemed that the decision to launch a frontal attack against the university was reached sometime after the surprise victory of Donald Trump, which promised, at least as far as Viktor Orbán was concerned, amicable relations between the new Republican administration and the illiberal state of Hungary. Viktor Orbán most likely thought that the new Republican president would be only too happy to assist him in getting rid of the university that was established by George Soros, a well-known supporter of his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Well, it didn’t turn out that way. Viktor Orbán managed to get himself and Hungary into a big mess. The new White House was not willing to turn against a well-known university, so the Orbán government had to save face somehow. This process has taken months. The first bitter pill the Hungarian government had to swallow was that there was no way to “negotiate” with the American federal government about the fate of CEU, on which the Orbán government insisted. By the end of June the Hungarian government realized that there was no way out. They would have to negotiate with New York State’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo.

By the end of September the hurdle of establishing an American campus of Central European University was surmounted through an agreement with Bard College, located in New York State. Bard is well known for its close ties with Hungary and Hungarian causes in general. For example, it volunteered to receive 325 Hungarian refugee students in 1956-1957, who spent nine weeks on its campus. The fiftieth anniversary of this event was celebrated in 2007, and many of these former students returned to the college to remember the time they spent there. In recent years, many Hungarian youngsters have received Hungarian Heritage scholarships to attend Bard College. And yes, George Soros has made sizable donations to the college.

Thus, an arrangement between these two institutions was an obvious answer to Hungary’s insistence on the physical presence of CEU on U.S. soil. Yet the government was silent until a few days ago, when László Trócsányi staged an “extraordinary press conference.” He announced an amendment to the law on higher education. The modification consists of a one-year extension of the deadline for CEU to come into full compliance, from January 1, 2018 to January 1, 2019.

Below is the university’s reaction to this latest “modification” of the law.

♦ ♦ ♦

Dear Members of the CEU Community,

CEU welcomes any initiative that reduces uncertainty, but the Minister of Justice’s proposed extension of the deadline prolongs the uncertainty while walking away from a solution that lies at hand.

An agreement between the State of New York and the Government of Hungary guaranteeing CEU’s existence is ready for signature. Resolution of this matter is now up to the government. The government can simply sign the agreement it has already negotiated.

In line with the agreement, CEU has signed an MOU with Bard College to undertake ‘educational activities’ in the State of New York. We have already initiated a program registered with the New York State Board of Education that should be operational within weeks. Thus there exists no obstacle to an agreement bringing this whole episode to a conclusion.

Hungary has already signed an agreement with the State of Maryland in respect of McDaniel College. Failure to sign an agreement with the State of New York in relation to CEU can only be perceived as discriminatory.

Extending the deadline and failing to sign the agreement are a step backward. CEU wants to move forward. CEU calls on the Government of Hungary to sign the New York-Hungary agreement without delay and re-affirms its commitment to fulfill all obligations, defend its freedom and continue its presence as a respected member of Hungarian and international academic life.

Michael Ignatieff, CEU President and Rector

Liviu Matei, CEU Provost and Pro-Rector

October 15, 2017

Moving to the center? Anne Applebaum’s essay on Viktor Orbán and Donald Trump

This morning I encountered Anne Applebaum’s name on the “Reggeli gyors” (Morning express) program on KlubRádió, on several Hungarian internet news sites, and in a Hungarian-language summary of foreign news related to Hungary that I receive daily. Anne Applebaum is an American journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author who has written several books on the Soviet Union and on Eastern Europe. She knows the region of East-Central Europe well, having spent several years in Poland while working as a correspondent for multiple British publications.

As a student of East-Central Europe, she is well acquainted with Hungary’s history and follows its current political events. She often writes about Hungarian affairs, so her name appears frequently in the Hungarian media. Every time an article of hers is published in The Washington Post, this or that Hungarian newspaper or internet site will report on its content. Hungarian journalists even follow her tweets.

As for her opinion of Viktor Orbán and his regime, it is devastating. This was not always the case. In 2010 she received the Petőfi Prize for her 2003 book on the Gulag, which was translated into Hungarian (as was her 2012 book Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956). The Petőfi Prize was established by the Public Foundation for the Research of Central and East European History and Society, which is a Fidesz-sponsored foundation. The prize was bestowed on her by Mária Schmidt, whom I call Viktor Orbán’s court historian.

Anne Applebaum (2015) Source: Václav Havel Library

If Anne Applebaum had any hopes for the Fidesz government in 2010, they evaporated soon after. She has written many harsh words on Hungarian domestic and foreign policy as well as on the government’s treatment of refugees. But this is not what I want to talk about here. Anyone who is interested in Anne Applebaum’s political opinions should visit her website, which offers an extensive collection of her writings over the years. Here I will focus on her latest article, “Beware: Trump may use the alt-right to turn himself into the center,” which appeared last night in The Washington Post, because it has a great deal to do with Hungary.

The article is about Donald Trump’s bigotry, which he has used as “an electoral tool, to excite a relatively small group of supporters.” He was successful mainly because the rest of his voters, mainstream Republicans, overlooked his tactics in their eagerness to win the election. Applebaum’s question is whether Trump will further manipulate racism “for political ends.” If he does and proves to be successful, the alt-right will gain strength, which might result in a level of violence that could offer Trump the opportunity to “present himself as the candidate of law and order.” In addition, “by encouraging the alt-right, Trump can also change our definition of what it means to be a moderate or a centrist.”

It is at this point that Anne Applebaum brings up the comparison with Hungary, where “the center-right ruling party, Fidesz, turned a neo-fascist alt-right party, Jobbik, into an electoral asset” and where Viktor Orbán can portray himself and his party as a centrist party that alone can save the country from extremism. A couple of years ago Fidesz used Jobbik very much as Anne Applebaum describes it, but I don’t believe this formula applies today.

In Hungary there are three main political forces: the left-liberals, Jobbik, and Fidesz. After 2006 the left-liberal group lost a great deal of its appeal, and at roughly the same time Jobbik, representing the extreme right, became an important political party. It was in this political climate that Viktor Orbán portrayed himself as the head of a right-of-center party that would save Hungary and Europe from the curse of a government of Gábor Vona, the leader of a racist, anti-Semitic party, which proudly declared itself to be an enemy of democracy.

But, as Anne Applebaum correctly points out, as time went by Fidesz, in order to maintain its support, took over more and more of Jobbik’s program. Applebaum says in this article that “Fidesz borrowed some of Jobbik’s ideas and language.” I think she is too kind. It wasn’t borrowing. It was a wholesale adoption of Jobbik’s program. From day one the Orbán government began fulfilling all of the important nationalistic demands of Jobbik, until the two parties and their constituents were barely distinguishable.

As the result of Fidesz’s rapid move to the right, it became increasingly difficult to maintain the myth of Fidesz as a central force, balancing between the “communists” and the “Nazis.” If Anne Applebaum had written this piece a few years ago, I would have fully agreed with her, but today I believe the picture needs to be refined.

As Fidesz was moving to the far right, becoming a nationalistic party with racist, anti-Semitic undertones, Gábor Vona of Jobbik realized that the political territory his party once occupied was being usurped. He decided to move his party more toward the center, with some success. Thus, the myth that the Fidesz government guarantees law and order in the face of a physically dangerous extreme right has collapsed. Today there is no longer a serious threat of extremists, akin to the alt-right extremists we saw demonstrating in Charlottesville, using deadly force in Hungary.

So, let’s go back to the United States and the “centrist” scenario Anne Applebaum foresees as a possibility. Viktor Orbán is a shrewd, intelligent politician, which we can’t say about Donald Trump. Such sophisticated thinking is, to my mind, unimaginable from Trump. I also believe that both his temperament and his deep-seated political views incline him toward extremism. I cannot picture him as a centrist in any guise, promising calm and the rule of law. He thrives on conflict and discord.

Before the 2010 Hungarians election I said in a lecture that “one doesn’t know where Jobbik ends and where Fidesz begins.” Today I am convinced that the same can be said about Donald Trump and the alt-right in all of its variations.

August 18, 2017

Charlottesville from a Hungarian perspective

White supremacists, neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klan members rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia, yesterday afternoon “to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump” to “take our country back.” The event ended in tragedy: a full-fledged terrorist attack by a white supremacist. In the end three people were dead and 19 injured. This was the first terrorist attack on U.S. soil since Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States, and ironically it was committed not by an Islamic extremist but by a man who is most likely an admirer of the president.

David Duke, the former KKK grand wizard who was one of the organizers, announced before the event that the neo-Nazi rally was the fulfillment of President Trump’s vision for the United States. Duke was an enthusiastic supporter of Trump as far back as the Republican primaries. In turn, Trump was reluctant to disavow him when asked to do so by the Anti-Defamation League. He claimed that he didn’t know enough about the group or David Duke. Just as he was unwilling to repudiate his white supremacist followers back in February 2016, he is equally averse now to name the real culprits of the terrorist attack. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides,” he added for emphasis. Most Americans found Trump’s statement, which “couldn’t distinguish between the instigators and the dead,” morally unacceptable. David Duke was also unhappy, but for a different reason. “I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists,” he tweeted.

Some commentators believe that it was Trump’s public show of admiration for Andrew Jackson that told white nationalists their time had come. The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website, considered it fitting that Trump was honoring Jackson, whom they call “a white supremacist extremist.” The group created a poster with a quotation from Bannon: “Like Andrew Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement.” Trump’s admiration for Jackson also lent credence to the position of Steve King (R-Iowa), a Tea Party conservative for whom America looks very much like the country from the days of the Founding Fathers. King does not welcome immigrants from Central and South America or the Middle East because “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” I should add that Steve King is a great admirer of Viktor Orbán and his regime. In March-April, when Orbán moved against Central European University and the NGOs, Steve King was elated. “Prime Minister Viktor Orbán leads the way again,” he tweeted. “Marxist billionaire Soros cannot be allowed to influence U.S. elections either.”

Given this background, it is perhaps more understandable why some leading Republicans and Democrats are demanding the immediate removal of Steve Bannon and his sidekick Sebastian Gorka from the White House. These critics call both of them “alt-right neo-fascists.” For example, Richard Painter, who was the chief White House ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, said in an MSNBC panel discussion that “Breitbart News is a racist organization…. This is Breitbart News that you’re watching on the streets of Charlottesville.” For good measure he added that “Bannon needs to be fired, Sebastian Gorka and the rest of the fascists or we have to remove this president.” Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego called Trump “an absolute racist” on a SiriusXM radio show. He recalled that Trump had refused to comment on the attack or show his support for the American Muslim community in Bloomington, Minnesota. Moreover, his adviser Sebastian Gorka suggested on MSNBC that the bombing may have been faked “by the left.” One ought not to be surprised, Gallego continued, because Trump has surrounded himself with racists like Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, and Stephen Miller.

So Sebastian Gorka is back in the news big time. Not that he has been quiet in the last few months, but at the beginning he was mostly defending himself against charges of being a member of the Vitézi Rend, a knightly order created by Miklós Horthy for heroes of World War I. I have written many articles on the subject, most of which appeared on Hungarian Spectrum. The Vitézi Rend wasn’t a fascist or Nazi organization per se, but after Hungary entered World War II the order ended up on the U.S. State Department’s blacklist of pro-Nazi institutions. On the other hand, given the anti-Semitic nature of the Horthy regime and the anti-Semitism of the governor himself, no Jews could be admitted to the order regardless of military valor. Gorka steadfastly denies his membership, but current leaders of the Vitézi Rend confirmed his participation in the group. We also know that Gorka was involved with an extreme-right group that made its appearance in 2006 during the long vigil of hundreds of people on the square in front of the parliamentary building. He was as well a regular contributor to the anti-Semitic Demokrata, a still existing periodical under the editorship of András Bencsik, a friend and colleague of Zsolt Bayer.

Otherwise, as the White House “pit bull,” Gorka was often on television touting the greatness of Donald Trump, who was apparently thrilled every time he heard Gorka expounding on Fox News. Gorka’s first serious “political comment,” however, didn’t turn out too well. He gave an interview to BBC radio in which he said, in connection with Trump’s threat to North Korea, that “You should listen to the president; the idea that Secretary Tillerson is going to discuss military matters is simply nonsensical.” This comment went too far, and Gorka was forced to backtrack. He claimed that his words were misconstrued and that he was merely saying that the media shouldn’t ask Tillerson questions about military matters.

Gorka survived the Tillerson misstep, but this time he might be in more trouble because a couple of days ago, in a radio interview with Breitbart News, he belittled the danger white supremacists pose. “It’s this constant, ‘Oh, it’s the white man. It’s the white supremacists. That’s the problem.’ No, it isn’t.” And a few hours later comes the Charlottesville tragedy. Unfortunately Charlottesville wasn’t an isolated incident. In the decade after 9/11 the number of right-wing extremist attacks averaged 337 per year, causing a total of 254 fatalities, while Muslim extremists were responsible for a total of 50 deaths in the United States during the same period.

Is Gorka a racist? We have no idea, but some of his words are supportive of a racist culture.

The same question can be asked about Viktor Orbán, and pretty much the same answer given. Orbán’s views on the purity of European culture, which is under siege by outsiders, can easily be interpreted in a racial sense. Viktor Orbán is a devilishly clever politician who can rarely be caught saying something truly inappropriate or something that could be interpreted as a racial slur or as anti-Semitic. On the other hand, there have been innumerable occasions when he uttered sentences that were ambiguous, which only those who are familiar with the cultural context in which they are uttered can properly decipher. It is relatively easy to find Orbán speeches in which he talked about Europeans as a distinct group whose culture must be defended. At one point he even talked about ethnic purity, which his staff found too offensive and removed from the transcript of the speech, only to be found out and forced to reinsert it.

Racism is rampant in Hungary. According to a 2014 poll, 59% of Hungarians wouldn’t consent to a black neighbor and by 2016 80% wouldn’t want to live next door to an Arab. In the United States, according to the Brookings Institute, in 1958 44 percent of American whites said they would move if a black family moved next door; 40 years later, in 1998, the figure was 1 percent. By refusing to disavow white supremacists, Trump and his White House advisers may be helping to turn the clock back to the 1950s.

August 13, 2017

A Hungarian reassessment of Donald Trump

The Orbán government, as we know, was initially delighted over Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States. Viktor Orbán expected a favorable change in U.S.-Hungarian relations, especially since the Hungarian prime minister was the only European leader to express a preference for Donald Trump over Hilary Clinton during the election campaign. A reciprocal sign of goodwill on the part of Trump was presumed, not just by the Hungarian administration but by the public as well. The prime minister undoubtedly expected an early invitation to the White House in addition to friendlier gestures from the U.S. State Department. None of these expectations has materialized. On the contrary, Viktor Orbán’s attack on Central European University was sharply denounced by the State Department. At the same time U.S.-Russian relations, instead of getting better, have soured. By now there’s a Cold-War-like chill in the relationship between the two countries.

In the last few weeks we have seen signs that the Orbán government is in the process of reassessing its opinion of the American president, who lost his first rounds against the Washington establishment and might already have been mortally wounded under the barrage of revelations about his and his family’s questionable conduct. Thus, I assume, the journalists of the government media received permission to use stronger language against the American president which, given their pro-Russian views, comes naturally to them.

Leading the way is István Lovas, who used to be Magyar Nemzet’s Brussels correspondent at the time the paper was the main mouthpiece of Fidesz. Lovas, after 20 years of living in Canada, the United States, and Germany where he worked for Radio Free Europe, returned to Hungary. He began writing for right-wing papers, like the now defunct Pesti Hírlap, Magyar Demokrata, Magyar Hírlap, and Magyar Idők. He is also a regular participant in a political roundtable program alongside Zsolt Bayer on the far-right Echo TV, now owned by Lőrinc Mészáros. His expertise is foreign policy. In addition, he maintains a blog.

Lovas published two articles on Trump today, one in Magyar Hírlap and the other in Magyar Idők. The first deals with “The collapse of Trump” and the other with the forthcoming economic sanctions against “dishonest” China. In addition, Magyar Idők added an editorial on the “economic saber rattling” of the United States. So, the honeymoon, if there ever was one, is over.

In Lovas’s assessment, the last remnants of Trump’s “pretense of power” evaporated when he signed the sanctions against Russia, Iran, and North Korea. It was a cowardly and unconstitutional act, in Lovas’s opinion. His performance as president has been disgraceful, and all those who believed his campaign promises about his plans for good relations with Russia are greatly disappointed. Trump is universally despised—at one point Lovas calls him a cockchafer’s grub—and therefore, in Lovas’s opinion, “it is not worth meeting this man.” I guess this is a message to Viktor Orbán: “Don’t be too disappointed that you haven’t been invited to Washington to meet the failed president. It’s not worth the bother.”

Lovas’s other article, on America’s possible trade war with China, is not an original piece but a summary of an article originally published in Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten. Lovas, who spent more than a week in China recently, is impressed with the super-modern world the Chinese created in the last few decades and therefore is worried about American plans that might result in a full-fledged trade war between the two countries.

The third article, “Trumps attacks on many fronts,” by Attila Mártonffy, deals with U.S. sanctions against Russia, China, and Iran which in turn hurt the economic interests of the European Union. The author calls the American moves “saber rattling.”

All in all, after relative media silence, the open criticism of Donald Trump has begun. Knowing the practices of the Hungarian government media, the articles that appear in Magyar Idők and Magyar Hírlap will a few days later be followed by pieces on all the lesser right-wing internet sites. We can expect article after article reassessing the role of Donald Trump as “the leader of the free world.”

Meanwhile, it might be educational to take a look at a by-now admittedly dated study (the material was collected from February 16 to May 8 and the report published in late June) by the Pew Research Center. It focuses on the opinions of people living in 37 countries about Donald Trump and the United States. We are lucky because Hungary was one of the 10 European countries included in the survey.

Overall, confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing in world affairs dropped sharply (from 64% to 22%) after Trump became president. This is true in Hungary as well. Hungarian trust in the presidency in the closing years of Obama’s second term was 58%, but by the time of the survey it was only 29%. I should add that there are only two countries of the 37 included in the survey where confidence in Trump was greater than it was in Obama: Israel (from 49% to 56%) and Russia (from 11% to 56%). Disappointment among Russians must be great nowadays.

When the researchers wanted to pinpoint the effect of the change in U.S. administration on public opinion in the countries studied some interesting results surfaced. Ten European countries were included in the survey: Hungary, Poland, Greece, Italy, France, United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden. In most of these countries there was a sizable drop in people’s favorable views of the United States after Trump moved into the White House. For example, this drop was 28 percentage points in Spain and 26 percentage points in the Netherlands. Hungary and Greece were the only two exceptions. In Hungary’s case there was a +1 move (62% to 63%) and in Greece a +5 change after Trump was elected.

Confidence in Trump as president is low everywhere in Europe. For example, 92% of Spaniards have no confidence in him, but even other European countries, including Greece and Italy, expressed very strong anti-Trump sentiments. Poland and Hungary are the last two countries on the list, each with only a 57% disapproval rate. In its opinion of the U.S.-Mexican wall, Hungary is at the bottom of the list, with a 49% disapproval rate, which may not sound like much of an endorsement until we compare it to the other European countries. The European median is 86%. Another telling figure is Hungarians’ strong approval of restrictions on entry to the United States from majority-Muslim countries. Hungary heads the list with 70% as opposed to the European median of 36%.

At the time Hungarians were also a great deal less critical of Donald Trump’s qualifications for the presidency. The European figures are devastating, but in Hungary more people believe he is qualified for the job (39%) than in any other European country. This is also true when it comes to questions about his personal traits, like his alleged arrogance and intolerance. Hungary is always at the end of the list, often together with Poland, in being the least critical. It is also telling that while overwhelming majority of Spaniards, French, Swedes, Dutch, and Germans consider Trump to be very dangerous as far as the world is concerned (76%-69%), only 42% of Hungarians do.

An intriguing situation. Within the European context Hungarians are less inclined to be harsh in their assessment of Donald Trump’s presidency. At least this was the case a few months ago. It will be fascinating to watch what happens in the coming months, especially if government media criticism of Trump’s policies becomes more widespread.

August 4, 2017

Viktor Orbán, the leading statesman of Europe

I’m not sure whether it is worth devoting a whole post to the latest Orbán speech at the Tusnádfűrdő/Băile Tușnad gathering of Fidesz leaders, especially after I waded through the dreadfully boring text. A reporter from one of the Hungarian internet sites asked some people in the audience after it was all over what particular sentence or idea they thought was most memorable. The less imaginative ones just stood there mum, while a clever middle-aged lady in a state of rapture announced that “every word the prime minister uttered” was equally unforgettable. How clever.

The most “exciting” moment of the event was a sight to behold. Muscled-up Szekler “gentlemen” began roughing up a woman who foolishly braved the crowd alone to protest the building of the Paks II Nuclear Power Plant. One of her attackers dragged her to the ground by her hair. Judging from what we can see on the video, the incident could have ended very badly.

I don’t know how other people will judge this speech, how others will interpret the speaker’s state of mind, but my overarching impression is that Viktor Orbán is afraid. This judgment might surprise some people, especially since most people, just like Péter Magyari of 444.hu, would undoubtedly find the speech little more than an attempt to explain “why he is the most important person in the world today.” It was precisely this extended and continuous self-aggrandizing that made me suspicious that the Hungarian prime minister is not as self-assured as he would have us believe.

Let’s start with “the strengthening of the Visegrád 4 countries,” which he considers to be the most momentous event for Europe in the last 12 months. Admittedly, there was the U.S. presidential election and the French presidential and parliamentary elections, which “swept away the whole French party system,” but they fade in comparison to the reality that “the cooperation of the Visegrád 4 has become closer than ever before.” Of course, he takes credit for this feat. But even a superficial perusal of the international media tells a different story. The coming reform of the European Union will most likely force these four countries to make choices that may vary according to their perceived national interests. Orbán’s claim that “Warsaw, Prague, Bratislava, and Budapest speak the same language” might have been true regarding their position on the refugee issue, but it is most likely a very temporary phenomenon. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with the Visegrád 4 may have served Israeli interests, but it had no appreciable effect on the cohesion of the alliance.

From his alleged diplomatic success he moved on to his incredible foresight in recognizing ahead of everybody else that the days of global, supranational elites are over and that the future will be in the hands of “patriotic national leaders.” Here, I believe, he is thinking of the U.S. presidential election, because the description fits only the political system Donald Trump is trying to create, for the time being without much success. In Europe, most likely to the chagrin of Orbán, those extreme right-wing leaders whom Orbán calls “patriotic political leaders” have not yet emerged–with the exception of Poland, and let’s hope that the European Union will muster its courage and ensure that the Polish “disease” does not spread across Europe.

It is a well-known fact that Orbán, who spent his first 14 years in a small village, is no friend of Budapest, where he never felt quite at home. Yet now he decided to brag about the country’s capital as the only city between Vienna and Istanbul that is a metropolis. As he put it, “our capital is capable of serving more than the Hungarian state.”

Naturally, a good portion of the speech was devoted to the refugee crisis and the dire situation that awaits Europe, which will inevitably be Islamized. He repeated his usual arguments, especially about the alliance of George Soros and the Brussels bureaucrats. The only noteworthy passage from this section of the speech was Orbán’s claim that his determined anti-migrant policies saved Europe “from the migrant invasion.” Therefore, “next year’s Hungarian election will be a special one because all of Europe will have a stake in it.” If he loses the election, his political opponents will take down the fence he built and will allow immigrants into the country. Thus, “they are ready to hand over the Europeans of today to a new future continent with a mixed population.” There are forces in Europe that want to see a change of government in Hungary because they want to weaken the Visegrád 4 alliance and, with it, the whole of Central Europe.

From this rant I think we can hypothesize that Orbán is actually worried about the outcome of the election, however crazy this sounds given the utter disarray in which the opposition finds itself at the moment. The incredible effort Orbán has expending lately urging all Romanian-Hungarians to vote is telling. At the last national election 97% of Romanian-Hungarians voted for Fidesz. So virtually all votes coming from there will be cast for Orbán’s party. Fidesz has managed to get close to a million people to register and the campaign is still under way. Second, the reference to certain political forces that want to weaken the Visegrád 4 alliance is also a telling sign of his worries about the stability of the group.

So, what kind of a picture emerges from all this? He is a politician who wants to portray himself as the leading statesman of Europe. In addition, he, and not Donald Trump, was the harbinger of the “patriotic leader” whose main concern is national interest. He was the man who saved Europe from a migrant invasion. Budapest is destined for greater things than being the capital of Hungary. And finally, his rule over the country is so important that all Europeans must keep fingers crossed for his political survival because otherwise Europe as we know it will be lost. It’s no wonder that the opposition claims that Orbán has lost his sense of reality. Yet, all that brings to mind the saying about the man who whistles in the dark although, in fact, he is fearful of the world around him.

July 22, 2017