Tag Archives: Richard Field

Interviews with Kim Scheppele, András Simonyi, R. Daniel Kelemen, and Edit Frenyó

Richard Field and Ben Novak of Budapest Beacon visited the United States recently and recorded several interviews with experts on Hungarian affairs. Here I am making available four interviews that I believe readers of Hungarian Spectrum will find interesting and constructive.

Our friend and contributor Professor Kim Lane Scheppele of Princeton University talks about how Viktor Orbán is using the refugee crisis as a pretext for turning Hungary into a police state. Kim Scheppele’s interview is followed by one with András Simonyi, Hungary’s former ambassador to NATO and the United States. Professor R. Daniel Kelemen of Rutgers University, who is an expert on the politics and law of the European Union, talks about the relations of the European People’s Party with Viktor Orbán. And finally, there is an interview with Edit Frenyó, a PhD. candidate at Georgetown University, who talks about her experiences as a Migration Aid volunteer at the Keleti Railway Station.

Enjoy!

 

Richard Field’s encounter with Hungarian politics

Here is a man who in the best American tradition wants to help. He thought before the last elections that he would like to support a party he considered to have good intentions. That party was LMP. In addition, he established the American House Foundation that is working with the Hungarian Red Cross and other non-governmental organizations on issues of poverty, homelessness, and social exclusion. And what is the result of his endeavors? According to the latest twist in official government communication, not only did “foreign business interests” stir up trouble in peaceful Gyöngyöspata but according to last night’s late-night news on MTA the American businessman who has been living in Hungary for a number of years might even be in cahoots with Russian intelligence forces that for some strange reason are using the Gypsies in their efforts to destabilize the countries of Eastern Europe. According to the report, the Hungarian national security forces are definitely investigating.

While Hungarian secret service officers are madly looking for Russian agents and “foreign business circles,” the Hungarian parliament decided to investigate on its own. I mentioned already yesterday that a young Fidesz MP, Máté Kocsis, will be heading the investigation. Knowing the Orbán government’s methods, they will surely find some culprits whose sole purpose in life is to smear Hungary’s reputation. Yesterday I asked Richard Field to send me the English translation of his original letter to Mr. Kocsis in which he makes it perfectly clear that he has no intention of appearing before his subcommittee.

Here is his letter.

Dear Mr. Kocsis:

The American President Abraham Lincoln once said “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.”

The facts of Gyongyospata are well documented and speak for themselves.  If you are curious about what happened in Gyongyospata between March 3rd and March 19th, I suggest you read my article which appeared in the March 26th edition of the Budapest Times “A Call to Alms” a Hungarian translation of which you will find attached.

Abraham Lincoln also said “You can fool some people all the time, all the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time.”

As for your kangaroo court, I have no intention of appearing before it as I have already issued a statement.  However, I would add the following:  When I arrived to Gyongyospata at 7:30 am on Friday morning to assist with the evacuation of Gyongyospata’s women and children, I did not see a single policeman.  If you study the photographs of the evacuation carefully, you see not one policeman.  I was able to drive in, put 276 people on six buses (with milk and snacks for the short journey to safety) and drive back to Gyongyos for additional provisions without a single policeman checking my documents or so much as asking me what was going on.   It was only upon my return from Gyongyos that I encountered a large police presence (for which I am grateful to Minister Pinter) and had my documents checked.

The buses carrying Gyongyospata’s women and children to safety had already departed when the “400 police” arrived.  That does not mean they would not have arrived anyway had the evacuation not taken place.  But it does mean that I and others had good reason to fear for the lives and safety of Gyongyospata’s Roma residents when putting them on the buses.

But don’t take my word for it.  You don’t even have to take the word of Gyongyospata’s Roma (which you and the political propaganda machine owned by prominent businessmen with close ties to Fidesz have persistently disregarded).  Just ask the six bus drivers.  

If, through my actions, I have harmed the international reputation of Hungary, a country I deeply love, then I very much regret it.  However, if called upon to protect Hungarian citizens from fascist thugs in the future, I will do so without hesitation should it be in my power to do so.  Because protecting the lives of Hungarian citizens is more important than sparing any government or political party embarrassment.

With freedom comes the responsibility to protect society’s weakest members.

 Richard Field

 Chairman

American House Foundation

As referenced in his letter, Richard Field wrote a detailed description of the situation in Gyöngyöspata on March 26. It appeared in the Budapest Timesunder the title “A Call to Alms.” In this article we can read what actually happened in Gyöngyöspata where vigilantes terrorized the Roma inhabitants of the village for a good two weeks. It is also clear from the article, which reflects Field’s personal experience, that the Hungarian policemen on the spot instead of getting rid of the vigilantes fraternized with them. We do know from other sources that more than 20% of the police force sympathize with–and perhaps at the elections even voted for–Jobbik, a neo-Nazi party.

The government story of foreign “provocation” is getting fancier and fancier. Zsolt Semjén, deputy prime minister, not only suspects foreign involvement but calls the events at Gyöngyöspata “obvious provocation coming from several directions, including foreign interest groups.” In a mysterious manner he indicated that “there are very considerable forces whose interest is to paint an unfavorable picture of Hungary.” But there are also groups within Hungary with evil intentions. One is Jobbik, a party that by showing that the Roma problem is a serious one can justify its existence in Hungarian political life. The other Hungarian party that is guilty of blowing up the events in Gyöngyöspata is LMP. According to Semjén LMP by exaggerating the Roma problem can pose as “a defender of human rights against the impotent state.”

Richard Field’s work on behalf of the Gypsies through his foundation is, of course, quite distinct from his generous contribution to LMP. But LMP wants to make sure that no one conflates the two and is distancing itself from Field’s activities. András Schiffer, the spokesman of LMP, denied any solidarity with the American businessman and in fact announced that the evacuation of the Roma women and children was too hasty. Mr. Field just didn’t think of the consequences, said Schiffer. The argument he used is practically identical to the line pursued by Fidesz politicians. The foreign reaction to the word “evacuation” was harmful to Hungary. It was an exaggeration. A good description of the whole shameful interview can be found in a reader’s reaction (Ed Carping’s note) in Amerikai-Magyar Népszava.

Mr. Field will not appear before the subcommittee, but it seems that LMP “will gladly join the work of the committee.” I guess their politicians think that they can “clear the good name of their party.” But knowing the outcome of the parliamentary committees’ deliberations nowadays I wouldn’t bet on it. The script is already written.

April 30, 2011

The Hungarian government and the outside world

By now the Orbán government reacts absolutely hysterically to the widespread perception outside of Hungary that there is something very wrong in the country. The foreign media have a heyday: one horrendous piece of news after the other is reported all over the world, and the facts seem to direct attention to a government that is undemocratic and  Eurosceptic and that wants to build a disguised one-party system for years to come. The controversial media law is considered to be still unfinished business in Brussels, the new constitution has been received with horror, and just as The Washington Post predicted last summer Viktor Orbán has become a pariah outside of Hungary.

What is the answer of the Hungarian government to these criticisms? The Hungarian opposition is at fault. They are the ones who thanks to their international connections are fomenting anti-Hungarian feelings all over the world. Be it in the United States, Sweden, Germany, Austria, or even as far as Australia.

Now, after Gyöngyöspata, the government’s reaction is the same. The fault lies not with the government nor with the local police that was unable to keep order. No, they are innocent. In fact, there was no trouble at all in the village. Everything was quiet and peaceful, and the Roma had no reason to fear anything. The whole affair was the creation of outsiders who don’t like the current government.

Máté Kocsis, a name I’m sure we will hear a lot of in the future, is the Fidesz chairman of the parliamentary committee on defense and public order who announced Fidesz’s intention to create a sub-committee to investigate “who lied and why they lied that there had been an evacuation” of almost 300 Roma women and children. He specifically mentioned the importance of learning the exact role of the “American businessman who financed the election campaign of LMP.”

Máté Kocsis is only thirty years old, and until now he had no important political role. He is one of those political non-entities whom Viktor Orbán suddenly “discovers” and puts into important posititions practically overnight. He has a law degree from the Péter Pázmány Catholic University. I watched Olga Kálmán interview him on ATV. Although he didn’t strike me as a very skilled politician, he did manage to give a half-acceptable answer to Kálmán’s question about why the government waited so long to take steps against the neo-Nazi groups that showed up in Gyöngyöspata.

Kocsis also wants to uncover “the opposition parties’ responsibility for systematically ruining the country’s reputation.” According to him “it must be investigated in whose interest it is to run to the foreign media and give the impression that there is a situation in Hungary resembling civil war.” Surely, their goal is “to discredit the country abroad.”

What kind of a subcommittee does Kocsis have in mind? According to the appropriate paragraphs of the House rules it will have a Fidesz-KDNP majority, but Kocsis expects all parties to take part in the work of the subcommittee that might be created by mid-May. Surely, Jobbik will gladly join in. Thus there will be an overwhelming right-wing majority with perhaps a couple of MSZP and LMP members. MSZP hasn’t responded yet, but LMP apparently is willing to participate. This despite the fact that Richard Field, the American business man living in Hungary who organized the Roma evacuation and who is a supporter of LMP, addressed a letter to Kocsis in which he told him in no uncertain terms that he will not be part of “a show investigation.” According to Field the real facts of the evacuation are well documented.

Field reiterated in his letter to Kocsis that the evacuation of 276 Roma women and children before the Véderő’s military exercises was justified because on April 22 (Friday) not one policeman could be found in the village. He arrived in Gyöngyöspata at 7:30 in the morning without anyone checking his papers. The police arrived only after the 276 people had left the village in six buses.

He finished his letter to Kocsis by saying that “if as a result of my actions I damaged the international reputation of Hungary, a country I love, I’m truly sorry. However, if in the future I’m asked to help defend Hungarian citizens from fascist gangsters, I will not hesitate because the lives of Hungarian citizens are more important than the reputation of any government or party. If I managed to show to the Hungarians that freedom must be accompanied by the defense of the least fortunate members of society, then I will feel that my life was worthwhile.”

Jobbik followed the lead of Fidesz and decided to turn to the chief prosecutor’s office. They are especially interested in the role of Richard Field in the affair. For good measure they added the name of Ferenc Gyurcsány as well. What does Gyurcsány have to do with Gyöngyöspata? After reading an article by Júlia Lévai in www.galamus.hu entitled “Not Gypsy but Nazi question” he decided to transfer one million forints of his own money to the local Gypsy organization in case there is a need to evacuate the Roma from the village. Thus Field is not the only one guilty of spreading “rumors” but Gyurcsány as well because both men are misleading the world about the true situation in Gyöngyöspata where, according to the Hungarian government, everything was calm and where the government did everything in its power to keep order.

If Fidesz and the Orbán government asked me how to deal with the outside world, I would strongly advise them to stop blaming others for everything bad that happens in the country. First of all, there was extensive coverage of what has been going on in Gyöngyöspata ever since the beginning of March. The Hungarian government’s efforts to deny the very existence of trouble and to blame others for spreading “rumors” is more than ridiculous. The Orbán government’s reputation–which admittedly is becoming more tarnished by the day–is at stake. If they go on like this, foreign criticism of the Hungarian government will only intensify. Jerrold Post mentioned that some of those dictator-types have a distorted view of reality. I’m afraid this is the case in Budapest at the moment.

April 29, 2011

The Orbán government and the Roma issue

In the last six weeks I wrote twice about the renewed activities of the Hungarian far right in villages with a large Roma population and the government’s lack of any meaningful response to the clearly illegal activities of these groups. I was pretty prompt on March 3, 2011 when I reported on the appearance of an until then unknown organization called “For A Better Future Civic Guard” which on that day decided to descend on Gyöngyöspata, a village of 2,800.

Almost three weeks went by and, although many liberal organizations and the two democratic parties urged the government to do something, nothing happened. It was at this point that on March 24, 2011, I wrote another piece entitled “The far-right is active and the government is silent.” Since then a whole month went by and the Orbán government refused to do anything. In fact, they often tried to minimize the problem or act as if the police did a splendid job and thanks to their presence there were no clashes or disturbances.

Most likely if these paramilitary organizations had decided to suspend their activities, at least for a few months, the government wouldn’t have done anything to put an end to vigilante “order.” I’m pretty sure that the Fidesz leadership expected that the groups’ enthusiasm for patrolling streets and asking for Gypsies’ IDs would peter out. Here and there a few policemen appeared in the villages where these groups showed up, but the encounter between the police and the vigilantes was cozy. I wouldn’t be surprised if some members of the police force, perhaps even the great majority, harbor very similar feelings toward the Roma as the overwhelming majority of the population at large.

But the far-right members of these paramilitary organizations didn’t stop. On the contrary, their activities became increasingly threatening. Another group called Véderő (Defense Force) appeared in Gyöngyöspata on April 18 where the group “purchased” for one forint a 1.5 acre lot with a run-down house where they planned to have “military exercises.” Their headquarters could be approached only through the Gypsy section of town. In fact, within a few days they established a “military camp.”

Meanwhile these events in Hungary didn’t go unnoticed abroad. The American ambassador, Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis, urged the Hungarian government to act: “instead of talk, concrete steps must be taken.” She reminded Viktor Orbán that both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton had announced that they are committed to the human rights of the Roma.

Then came the news reported by the Associated Press and published in practically all major English-language newspapers that “hundreds of frightened Roma women and children were bused” out of Gyöngyöspata. As usual, in Hungary there are two versions that circulate about this flight of over two hundred people from the village where the Defense Force set up camp. The non-governmental version is that Richard Field, an American businessman living in Hungary, realizing the plight of the local Gypsies, turned to the Hungarian Red Cross on April 19 and asked them to find accommodations for the women and children for the Easter weekend. The government version is that the “weekend camping” had been organized much earlier and had absolutely nothing to do with the presence of the Defense Force or the fright of the Roma in Gyöngyöspata. I leave it to my readers to decide which explanation is more plausible.

While about half of the village’s Gypsy population was evacuated or went on a weekend vacation, take your pick, the Hungarian government decided that it could no longer sit on the fence. After all, Hungary, which came up with the idea of a European-wide Roma strategy, can’t possibly allow paramilitary organizations to terrorize the local Roma population. As it is, Hungary is not offering the best model for handling the Roma problem. Just as Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, argued, while one of the thirteen main issues tackled by the Hungarian presidency of the Council of the European Union was creating a European Roma policy, it was practically looking the other way when on its own land Roma were being maltreated. He rightly pointed out that Hungarian Gypsies face blatant discrimination, living in shanty towns, facing an atmosphere of hostility, unemployment, lower life expectancy, prejudice, school segregation. According an estimate, less than one percent of Roma earn college degrees.

In any case, perhaps because of the evacuation of the Gypsy women and children, Sándor Pintér, minister of interior in charge of the police, decided to move. Or, probably more precisely, he got the green light from Viktor Orbán to put an end to the activities of the paramilitary groups. Their first move was against the Defense Force. They arrested eight members, including Tamás Eszes, the head of the organization, shown being led away on the photo. Moreover, the government published an ordinance: from here on any person who appears in uniform will be fined 100,000 forints.

Zoltán Balog, protestant minister and spiritual advisor to Viktor Orbán, is in charge of Hungary’s Roma policy. Until now I haven’t seen any concrete proposals concerning his plans to solve this huge human and social problem. Earlier I had the distinct feeling that Balog would love to drop the whole problem in the laps of the churches. After all, he said, the churches are really better equipped to handle the problem than the government. Lately I have heard less of this brilliant idea. Perhaps the churches resisted Balog’s plan.

Every time Balog opens his mouth he says something outrageous. He seems to look upon the problem simply as a burden on the non-Gypsy population. If the country doesn’t do something within a few years, he says, it will be stranded with an ever-growing Roma population that must be supported. More Roma, more money. But surely, the blatant discrimination, the indescribable poverty, lack of education, unemployment must be remedied quite independently of our pocketbooks.

Viktor Orbán wanted to save himself from openly turning against these paramilitary organizations that are closely connected to the neo-Nazi party, Jobbik. According to some estimates 30% of Fidesz voters sympathize with Jobbik and, as it is, Fidesz has lost about 600,000 voters since last April. There is a fear that if the government turns against the Jobbik-sponsored vigilantes Fidesz will lose a large portion of those who have difficulty deciding whether they belong to Fidesz or Jobbik.

Just to give you an idea of the intricate connections between the two right-wing parties, here is a family story. Sándor Lezsák is an important Fidesz member of parliament. In fact, he is one of Fidesz’s deputy speakers of the House. Lezsák’s son-in-law, a filmmaker, is a Jobbik party member whose name only recently surfaced in the media. Apparently, he is the one who was responsible for “celebrating” Hitler’s birthday on Jobbik’s N1TV, an Internet television station. It’s often difficult to decide where one party starts and the other ends. Right now my Hungarian friends worry that it will be Jobbik that will benefit from the decline of Fidesz.

April 23, 2011