Tag Archives: U.S. foreign policy

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

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

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

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

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

♦ ♦ ♦


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

January 9, 2017

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

Dear President-elect Trump:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

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


An Open Letter to the Obama Administration

from Central and Eastern Europe

July 16, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore, we propose the following steps:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 11, 2017

The Orbán government stands fast at home and abroad

At home

Viktor Orbán was expected to have a difficult time in parliament today. It was one of those times that the prime minister has to answer questions. He cannot pass the unpleasant task on to one of his ministers or even to undersecretaries. All three opposition spokesmen wanted the prime minister to say something about Index’s revelations concerning Antal Rogán’s suspicious business activities which, on the surface at least, seem to involve kickbacks and money laundering.

Opportunities to confront the prime minister directly are rare, and therefore each opposition party should designate its best person to pose the question. I’m afraid MSZP’s choice of László Varga wasn’t wise. His “witticism”—if you can call it that—about Antal Rogán’s inability to see reality from his helicopter and the size of his apartment fell flat. For Orbán, who can shine in such a situation, Varga’s poorly formulated question was easy to answer and counter. Orbán never uttered Rogán’s name but instead reminded the socialists of the days when the MSZP-sponsored hunger marches were organized by “an opulent euro millionaire,” a reference to a high-level MSZP politician who was discovered to have 200 million forints worth of euros in an Austrian bank.

Bernadett Szél, co-chair of LMP, was a great deal more specific. First, she recalled all the lies Rogán told about the residency bonds and about his relationship to Balázs Kertész. Szél specifically wanted to know how long Antal Rogán can remain a minister. She reminded Orbán that he as prime minister is responsible for the composition of his government and therefore it is he who must take responsibility for the behavior of his ministers.

This question couldn’t be sidestepped. Orbán had to give a more or less straight answer. His reply: “I don’t have anything to do with political bluster and political tabloid sensations. I am interested only in performance within the government. Whatever has been happening to Antal Rogán so far only strengthens his position. Don’t think that these accusations shatter us or that they force us to think of them at all. I consider the accusations no more than infantile sham which I simply don’t take seriously. If one word of this affair were true you would have filed charges already.”

Viktor Orbán today in the Parliament

Viktor Orbán in parliament today

Finally, György Szilágyi of Jobbik rose and listed all the lies Rogán uttered in the last few days. He inquired why Orbán as prime minister tolerates this. Orbán pretty much repeated what he said to Szél: “These are political sham attacks that I don’t take seriously. Every attack I have heard so far only increases my trust in the minister.” Orbán also cleverly used this opportunity to bolster his defense of Rogán by pointing out that the attacks are no so much against his minister as against himself and his government. His final words to Szilágy were: “a politician calling another politician a liar is not very original.”

So, for the time being Rogán’s position is secure. He has been an indispensable associate who, by the look of things, brought billions of euros into the coffers not only of the country but most likely also of Fidesz, in addition to enriching himself. Orbán at the moment thinks so little of the strength of the opposition that he believes that he can withstand all the charges. Most likely he is right.

Abroad

Hungarian papers barely mentioned an extraordinary dinner meeting of foreign ministers held on Sunday, which was inspired by German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. In light of the unexpected victory of Donald Trump, a man with no background in foreign affairs, Steinmeier thought it was important for the EU foreign ministers have a common policy when dealing with an unpredictable Washington. Federica Mogherini, the quasi foreign minister of the European Union, agreed and the meeting was scheduled.

It was rumored at the time the meeting was announced that Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó would not attend but would instead send one of his undersecretaries. It was an indication that Hungary, unlike most of the EU member countries, didn’t believe the emergency meeting was necessary. Since Viktor Orbán, alone among European politicians, rooted for Trump, he hopes that the new president will look upon his regime favorably. That the foreign minister opted not to attend the emergency meeting should give Hungary another gold star in Trump’s book.

Three foreign ministers did not attend the Sunday meeting. Predictably, the UK’s Boris Johnson was absent. After all, Britain is on its way out of the Union and needs to be on especially good terms with the next president of the United States. France’s Jean-Marc Ayrault sent an envoy due to a scheduling conflict. And, as euobserver.com said, “Hungary’s pro-Trump Prime Minister Viktor Orbán also kept his top foreign envoy at home.”

Assessments of the Sunday dinner meeting vary. According to critics, it was far too early for the foreign ministers to get together since we know practically nothing about Trump’s foreign policy objectives. Mogherini, on the other hand, declared the meeting a success, saying that the foreign ministers agreed “to engage with the incoming administration even from this very first week of transition,” meaning right away.

Meanwhile, Szijjártó decided to speak up and explain Hungary’s position. He found “the hysteria caused by the US presidential elections that swept through the European political elite pathetic and at the same time amusing.” Hungary will not take part in this hysteria because it considers Trump’s election good news. The Hungarian government finds the president-elect’s idea to stop “democracy export” beneficial to the world.

It should be noted that Viktor Orbán’s Visegrád 4 friends decided not to follow in the footsteps of their pugnacious Hungarian friend. I wonder whether there was any consultation among the four countries ahead of the Sunday dinner meeting. I suspect there was, but that Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic don’t want any more open confrontations with the rest of the European countries. They gave the EU a hard enough time on the refugee issue and don’t feel like sticking their necks out for Donald Trump, who may be courting Russia at the expense of Eastern Europe.

November 14, 2016

László Kövér, the voice of Fidesz’s inner thoughts

It was shortly after Fidesz’s loss in the elections of 2002 that the American-Hungarian Coalition invited some members of the Hungarian parliament for a two-week visit to Washington. The idea was for these MPs to gain exposure to American democracy in action. The American-Hungarian Coalition, which at this point was the only organization allegedly representing Hungarians living in the United States, was a decidedly conservative body and therefore in Hungarian politics usually sided with the right: the Antall government between 1990-1994 and Fidesz between 1998 and 2002.

The Coalition’s bias became patently obvious when it turned out that only Fidesz MPs were selected to visit the U.S. The others obviously didn’t deserve such a trip. László Kövér, who by the way doesn’t know any English, was one of the Fidesz MPs who was chosen. I’m afraid that the money spent on him was a total waste. He doesn’t understand anything about democracy, and today he has a burning hatred of the United States.

I said earlier that Kövér is one of those people who doesn’t know when to shut up. After his unfortunate remarks at the Fidesz Congress, he made his rounds of radio stations and tried to explain what he actually meant. So, when Pesti Srácok approached him for an interview, he couldn’t resist. In response to this interview, a friend of mine said that he hasn’t seen “such concentrated stupidity, lack of information, and simple ignorance put together based on visceral anti-Americanism and the misconceptions of the far right.”

Of course, one of the topics that was covered was the refugee issue. Kövér sees two villains here: Germany and the United States. In his view, the German government wants to satisfy the needs of German business, but its real aim is to enlarge the voting base of the left. Don’t ask me why Angela Merkel would want to add voters to her Christian Democratic Party’s strongest opposition, the social democrats. Logic obviously is not Kövér’s strong suit. As for his knowledge of the employment of earlier immigrants to Germany, he talks about the prospect of having only 10% of the newcomers gainfully employed while the other 90% will be living on welfare payments. And after this piece of nonsense, Kövér embarks on another one. In his opinion, the “essence of the left’s ideology is permanent liberation.” The left suggests to one group after the other that they are oppressed and therefore need protection. Kövér “doesn’t want to offend the Muslim migrants, but in the eyes of the European left there is really no difference between them and transsexuals.”

uncle sam2

Well, we could say that Kövér cannot be taken seriously and therefore it is not worth spending time on his ridiculous statements. But the situation is not that simple. These thoughts have been cropping up in Viktor Orbán’s speeches as well. He talked several times about the advantage the German socialists see in admitting refugees who then will vote for them as soon as they become citizens.

In Kövér’s view, which I’m sure Viktor Orbán shares, politicians in responsible positions have lost their minds, except naturally for Fidesz politicians. “One’s stomach turns, and one has difficulty breathing. One chokes on the stupidities of European politics, from the mediocrity and the dishonesty of its representatives. One feels that there is no hope because we are sitting in a boat where everybody around us is an idiot or at least they pretend to be.”

Taking his cue from the far right, Kövér considers the United States to be the greatest villain in the refugee drama. Apparently, the real problem with the U.S. is that “it needs ever newer enemies, conflicts, phony rows in order to keep its military machinery in motion.” In a way, the situation during the Cold War was less dangerous, according to Kövér. Then “at least we knew who was on whose side.” But today “do we know the goals of each side in the war against the Islamic State?”

The countries of Central Europe are only pawns in this game, but luckily they are beginning to define and defend their own interests. “Everything started with the history of Cain and Abel, and the role of Cain is filled by those who possess the greatest power.” Kövér was slow to discover that the real enemy is the United States. It surprised him, but by now he knows that with the collapse of the Soviet Union America remained without an enemy and therefore looked for new ones: the Russian mafia and Osama Bin Laden, the chief evil (főgonosz). Eventually, after some confusion, they managed to take aim at Russia and to provoke a conflict with Ukraine, which by the way divided Europe. And then came faceless corruption as a target.

I find it shocking that Kövér equates Osama bin Laden with the Russian mafia or corruption. Moreover, the word “főgonosz” carries the connotation that this man’s wickedness was exaggerated by the United States for political reasons. As for the division of Europe as the result of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Kövér here seems to be admitting that Hungary is secretly on Russia’s side because on the surface there seems to be unity among the European countries.

Kövér doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry when Ambassador Colleen Bell urges the Hungarian government to follow the Romanian example and investigate and bring to justice corrupt politicians when she got her cushy job only because she collected money for Obama’s presidential campaign. “So, let’s forget about the fairy tales.” I guess this means that Colleen Bell is as corrupt as any of those whom the U.S. government would like to bring to justice in Romania or Hungary.

In Kövér’s opinion, the standards of political discourse have sunk so low that “one has no appetite to react to the statements of even the American ambassador.” Obviously, Kövér is not very sensitive to what Péter Szijjártó, János Lázár, Lajos Kósa, Antal Rogán, or, for that matter, Viktor Orbán talk about. It’s enough to read, for example, Viktor Orbán’s accusations against West European politicians who purposely want to ruin European civilization.

Kövér’s speeches and interviews are useful for anyone looking for insight into the true nature of the Orbán regime and Fidesz. He is not the odd man out but one who speaks most openly about matters others try to either hide or tone down. We can learn from him more than some people think. Indeed, this far-right drivel is part and parcel of Fidesz’s worldview.

Mária Schmidt, the court historian of Viktor Orbán

“Europe, especially its western and northern parts, have created such wealthy societies that they deservedly elicit the admiration and envy of regions with lower living standards. These countries are rich and weak,” and therefore it is not surprising that a flow of “settlers” has been arriving in the richer parts of the European Union from the poor regions of the Middle East and Africa.

Do these ideas sound familiar? They should because they show up, practically word for word, in Viktor Orbán’s speech at the Kötcse picnic. They were written by Mária Schmidt, the court historian of the Hungarian prime minister, and published on the very same day Orbán delivered his speech. We can be sure that the lengthy essay titled “Kopogtatás nélkül” (Without knocking) that appeared in “Látószög” (Viewpoint), one of the several blogs created by the government, had been read and perhaps even commented on by Viktor Orbán before he began work on his speech. In fact, he mentioned Mária Schmidt’s essays in which the historian “regularly demonstrates” the two-facedness of the United States.

So, let’s see what kinds of lessons Viktor Orbán learned from Mária Schmidt, whose knowledge of the Middle East and of U.S. foreign policy verges on zero. In her view, in the old days of a bipolar world order the great powers could keep up a fragile balance in the region, but by now “the United States can handle the Middle East with its enormous oil reserves only if it creates perpetual chaos and steady civil and religious wars.” This is a notion to which Viktor Orbán also briefly alluded. According to Schmidt, this chaos comes in handy for those who “wish to give the impression that there is no other way [out of the situation for the population] but emigration.” In fact, however, there is a concerted effort on the part of some unnamed persons to get millions of people to take to the roads and leave. A bit later we learn whom Schmidt has in mind: the rich oil billionaires of the Arab states.

Mária Schmidt, director of the House of Terror

Mária Schmidt, director of the House of Terror

Why do the so-called refugees but actually settlers keep coming? They come to take what “we, Europeans, have created over the centuries.” They come “to make a new home for themselves…. We should have no illusions: this new wave of settlers is a part of a well-planned and well-executed strategy.” Again we are left in the dark who is behind this strategy, whose aim is the destruction of European culture and freedoms. The oil magnates don’t seem to be the culprits here. Most likely the culprit is the U.S. government with the help of “the useful idiots” who don’t recognize the diabolical nature of the American plan. Two days later an article appeared in Hungary Today, the Orbán government’s propaganda internet site, by a Hungarian-American, Adam Topolansky, with the title “‘Useful Idiots’ of the West and the Creation of Chaos through Mass Migration.”

You may recall that Viktor Orbán in his recent speech talked at some length about Christian Democrats in Western Europe who have been cowed by the reigning liberal ideology and by the pressure coming from the liberal press. Mária Schmidt also talks about the liberalism of the Christian Democrats who no longer represent conservative Christian values. And she has a few words of scornful rebuke for those who appeal to Christian notions of charity and compassion when it comes to handling the refugee crisis. The Muslim billionaires should take care of the region’s poor, and it should be the duty of the Arab states to stabilize the region “instead of paying for the trips of those they consider superfluous.” Truly outlandish ideas which even Viktor Orbán didn’t dare to incorporate into his speech.

Mária Schmidt praises the wisdom of the East European politicians because “they don’t accept the newspeak just as they didn’t serve the communist agitprop.” They don’t suffer from the inferiority complex of the left-liberal crowd, which accepted the propaganda from Moscow and is now following the mantra coming from Berlin.

Schmidt is not given to checking her sources. For instance, her “useful idiots” include Bernie Sanders, the Democratic hopeful in the current presidential campaign, whom she describes as such a lover of the Soviet system that he decided to spend his honeymoon in the Soviet Union in 1988 “as an ideological gesture.” This story is borrowed from a recent column of George Will, the conservative commentator, that appeared in The Washington Post. Although it is true that Sanders and his new wife did go to the Soviet Union right after they got married, it was on official business.

Schmidt also claims in this article that “according to a recent survey half of Muslims consider suicide bombings a legitimate way of fighting the enemies of Islam.” Her source is an article by David Cole that appeared in Taki’s Magazine, which is described by its editor as a libertarian organ. There are a couple of problems with this source. One is that Cole’s numbers bear little resemblance to those of the Pew Research Center and the other is that David Cole is a Holocaust revisionist. So, if I were Viktor Orbán, I would be hesitant to rely on Schmidt’s so-called research. But he uncritically accepts both her views on history and at least some of her interpretations of current events.

Both Mária Schmidt and Viktor Orbán deeply resent, and reject, all references to Western Europe’s financial contribution to the poorer regions of Eastern Europe. It is enough to quote Orbán’s latest on the subject in the translation of The Budapest Beacon:

It is difficult to use light language when reacting to any talk [in the EU] about connecting any discussion of money to the issue of immigration. Not to mention that….I don’t think [Hungary] gets money as ‘help’ from the West. This is a complete misunderstanding. We can’t accept that and I have never accepted this idea that they are giving us money out of solidarity.  Like heck they are! What we’re talking about is that Hungary is the member of a common economic zone. We had to live under communism for 40 years while they had 40 years of capitalism. They are rich and have lots of capital, while we are poor and lack capital because we’ve lived under communism. Regardless of this, we together decided to unite our economic areas. It’s completely obvious that we can’t have honest and fair competition between businesses, people and countries that have had 40 years to become rich while the other group was robbed for 40 years. There has to be some kind of mechanism that provides fair and honest competition for these two groups to interact in. If we didn’t have this, they would invade us economically. We would be a colony if this disparity was allowed to stand. They know this too because they’ve had colonies.

And both Schmidt and  Orbán have devastating views of the European Union. Yes, criticism of the European Union’s handling of this particular crisis is certainly warranted. Brussels was unprepared and continues to flounder. But the real problem the European Union faces is that it is an assembly of largely independent nation states that are unwilling to cede some of their prerogatives to a common government. Hungary is among the most recalcitrant. So, Orbán should be the last to condemn Brussels for its inability to act.

THE ORIGINS OF THE REFUGEE CRISIS ACCORDING TO VIKTOR ORBÁN. PART II

Yesterday, in the first of my two-part series on Viktor Orbán’s speech in Kötcse, where Fidesz bigwigs hold a so-called picnic, I concentrated on Viktor Orbán’s ideas about the origins of the refugee crisis. I think we can safely call these ideas fanciful and without foundation. Here I will analyze another theme: the crisis and possible death of liberalism.

A year ago at Tusnádfürdő/Baile Tusnad, Viktor Orbán delivered a speech that caused worldwide consternation. In his speech he rejected democracy as we understand it and championed the cause of “illiberal democracy,” an autocratic form of government in which, although there are free elections, citizens lack civil liberties. The speech created quite a storm and Orbán’s men tried to explain his words away with little success. From there on, he was not too eager to talk about the end of liberal democracy. It seems, however, that his “successes” in his fight against the Islamic invasion have emboldened him and that he is now ready to return to his vision of the new world that will be created as a result of the migration crisis. Viktor Orbán now sees himself as the leader of a new Christian, national era that will follow “the age of liberal blah blah.”

In his view, with the refugee crisis came “the crisis of liberal identity.” What is the connection between the two? I will try to put it more elegantly than Viktor Orbán did. Liberal ideals, among them the right to freedom of movement and universal human rights, brought on this catastrophe, which proves that the continuation of these policies is no longer possible. Right now Europe is rich but weak, which is “the most dangerous combination that can exist.” Liberalism is responsible for Europe’s weakness. And soon enough its riches will be taken away by the less fortunate. If Europe wants to defend itself, it must get rid of its liberal political philosophy.

As things stand now, even conservative politicians are liberals because of the pressure of the media, which is in liberal hands. This liberal tyranny in Europe is so strong that even talking about a turn away from liberalism is dangerous. Only in Hungary can one speak honestly, “where we can sit here and talk about these questions.” Nowhere else in Europe could that happen. One couldn’t call together such a meeting in Germany “because there one cannot say such things.” Even in Poland it would be risky.

Liberalism has been undermining the very foundations of European security, and the refugee crisis made the bankruptcy of liberalism crystal clear. Orbán further elaborated on this theme today in his regular Friday morning interview on Magyar Rádió. He called western liberalism “suicidal” and said it will lead to a decline in living standards. Thus, while a year ago he tried to hide his antagonism to liberalism, now Orbán has come out and openly attacked it as the cause of the “migrant invasion.” Obviously, he thinks that foreign public opinion will be more receptive to his anti-liberal talk given the pressures of the refugee crisis.

In the eyes of the United States and its supporters

there is righteousness and there is evil that should be conquered. But at the end, it always turns out that behind it all there is something else: money, oil, raw materials. When they bombed Iraq or for that matter Syria into smithereens their action was anything but beneficial. Yet they demand that the world acknowledge that they are benefactors who stand on the right side. This is the essence of liberal foreign policy.

Orbán is looking at the Euro-Atlantic alliance as an outsider even though Hungary is a member of NATO and therefore an ally of the United States. I really don’t understand how he can cooperate with an evil power like the United States and why he sent a contingent of Hungarian soldiers to Iraq only a couple of months ago. I also don’t understand why he allows American troops into the country because at this very moment there are joint military exercises taking place in Hungary. How long will he be able to play this game?

Orbán spent a considerable amount of time on his plans for Hungary’s future. He came up with four essential ingredients. The first is the necessity of defensible borders. As he put it, “a country that has no borders is not a country.” That means that Hungary will veto any attempt to strengthen geographical and political ties among member states.

The second is “the defense of ethnic and cultural composition,” not only of Hungary but also, he hopes, of Europe. Every nation has the right to decide whether they want to change or not. He seems to think that this is the most important component of his new Europe “because at the very end this is the battle that must be won.” This is a dangerous idea which could affect the free movement of citizens of the European Union’s member states. What if the United Kingdom decides that they want to defend the current ethnic composition of the country and no longer welcome Hungarian “economic immigrants”?

Third, Hungary must remain economically competitive because in these modern times even if you are right and “morally as close as possible to perfection, if you are not successful economically they will crush you.” Economic success, however, is not an end in and of itself. It is only a vehicle for the ultimate goal: national sovereignty.

And the last ingredient of illiberal Hungary is what he calls “everyday patriotism” (mindennapi patriótizmus), to which he immediately added: “Please, don’t misunderstand me.” What is the problem with everyday patriotism? After all, what he seems to mean by it is that Hungarians should give preference to Hungarian products and should discriminate in hiring practices in favor of Hungarians. Why apologize? Well, it is because most Hungarians remember the documentary film of Mikhail Romm called “Ordinary Fascism,” which for the most part took the form of annotated excerpts of archival material that show the rise and fall of fascism, especially in Nazi Germany. The film’s Hungarian title is “Hétköznapi fasizmus” (weekday fascism), in the sense of “ordinary.” Even he felt that the phrase needed some explanation. His everyday patriotism has nothing to do with Romm’s ordinary fascism.

Thousands marching toward Nagykanizsa, Zala County

Thousands marching toward Nagykanizsa, Zala County

Well, I’m afraid we’ll have to wait for the fulfillment of Viktor Orbán’s grand vision. At the moment, all hell has broken loose along the borders and Hungary has become completely isolated. Viktor, you’re doing a heck of a job! Unfortunately, unlike Michael Brown who resigned ten days after George W. Bush thus praised him for his utterly inadequate handling of the Katrina crisis, the Hungarian prime minister is seeing both his power and his domestic popularity increase.

Kim Lane Scheppele: Hungary and the State of American Democracy

Professor Kim Lane Scheppele of Princeton University doesn’t need an introduction to the readers of  Hungarian Spectrum or to anyone who is interested in Hungarian constitutional law or politics. Here is her take on the hearing held by Dana Rohrabacher, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

* * *

Usually, I write about the dismal state of Hungarian democracy.   But today, I will write about the dismal state of American democracy.

I went to Washington Tuesday to attend the hearing about Hungary before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats. You can see the hearing and read the witness statements for yourselves here.

The hearing had a much higher profile than one might have expected. Fully nine Congressmen showed up and stayed through much of the hearing, which counts as a big turnout on Capitol Hill. In the audience, there was standing room only. Once the hearing began, however, it became obvious that the Democratic and Republican sides of the committee were not evenly matched nor was the committee interested in what the witnesses had to say. The Democratic members of the committee did not really understand why they were there, but the Republican members of the committee had an agenda that they relentlessly pushed for the full three hours.

Republicans hammered home their point that the US is unfairly picking on Hungary because it has a conservative government that adheres to Christian values. Hungary has entrenched in its constitution respect for fetal life, traditional marriage and belief in God, they pointed out, suggesting that the Obama administration was criticizing Hungary because it does not share these commitments. According to committee Republicans, the US ignores worse violations of democratic principles in other countries but, with its criticism of Hungary, has singled out unfairly a country that has been a loyal friend to the US. They argued that the Obama government’s increasingly critical policy toward Hungary is nothing more than a politically motivated campaign. Nothing to worry about in Hungary, they argued — it’s just conservative.

The performance of the American Congress on display at Tuesday’s hearing was not something to be emulated by any other democracy. It started with the disrespectful tone of the hearing toward witnesses – with Republican Subcommittee Chairman Dana Rohrabacher of California leading the way – and continued with the ignorance of the members of Congress who should have known better about the subject of their own hearing. Most shocking of all was the fact that the questions from the House Republicans to critical witnesses were identical to those that have been directed in the past against other critics of the Hungarian government – including me – by representatives of the Hungarian government itself. (For evidence of that these ways of attacking critics are not new and have been the Hungarian government’s line for years, see my earlier responses to those same questions here.

Rohrabacher2

The Republicans followed the Hungarian government’s usual script precisely, which raises questions about how that script was communicated to them. Or maybe members of the subcommittee were really ignorant of the agenda they were pressing, which would be a different sort of scandal. Tuesday’s hearing made it appear that the important House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee had simply offered their space to a foreign government to put on the show it wanted.

In addition, the hearing provided yet another example of Republican congressmen undermining the foreign policy of the Obama administration. In its audacity, the performance of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Tuesday was only a step below the recent incident in which congressional Republicans wrote to the government of Iran to tell them not to negotiate with President Obama because he could not make his word stick. Tuesday’s hearing misrepresented and mocked the concerns of the State Department while Republicans on the subcommittee buried witness Deputy Assistant Secretary Hoyt Yee under a barrage of hostile and irrelevant questions that he could not possibly have anticipated because they required him to discuss other countries that were not on the hearing’s agenda. The committee Republicans seemed to be willing to allow a NATO ally – and a country where the United States has worked hard to promote democracy through multiple presidential administrations of both parties – to slide into autocracy so long as this autocratic government promoted Christian conservative values.

But two important things came out of this hearing – both more consequential over the long-term:

  1. The prepared remarks of DAS Hoyt Yee were more critical than any prior State Department statement has been to date about Hungary. After all, it is the State Department that is charged with articulating US foreign policy, not the House Foreign Affairs Committee, so Yee’s statement represents current policy. It linked Hungarian democratic weaknesses at home to its ability to be a reliable member of NATO: “Since internal weakness invites nefarious influences from the outside, NATO needs all of its members to be internally strong.” That is why the state of Hungary’s democracy will continue to be of concern to the US government.
  2. The Congressional Research Service prepared a report for the hearing, which was extremely critical of Hungary. The CRS has a reputation for being neutral, factual, and non-partisan. The report shows that the “fact assessment” arm of the US Congress has found that Hungary’s critics have truth on their side. This will have a larger influence than anything that the committee members said on Tuesday because it what everyone looking for a neutral source on Hungary’s present condition will cite.

Those are the two important takeaways from the hearing. We should not confuse the embarrassing performances of the members of the committee Tuesday for real US policy, which is moving ever more resolutely toward serious consequences for Hungary.

That said, the hearing was a dismal performance by America’s elected representatives. It appeared to be a victory for the Hungarian government, if only because the belligerent committee chair engaged in frequent monologues so only the Hungarian side of the story – which he presented – actually got out. It was the kind of victory that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán specializes in – bullying, one-sided and mean. It was a demonstration of “gotcha” politics and depressing to see that the Hungarian government’s unfair tactics toward its opponents were transferred in every particular to Republican members of the US Congress who became the ventriloquists’ dummies for the government of Hungary.

For example, one of the witnesses was asked to recite the opening lines of the Hungarian constitution. Not surprisingly, he – being American – did not have the Hungarian constitution committed to memory. So the committee member triumphantly quoted the line: “God Bless the Hungarians.” And then he gave a lecture about how critics objected to the invocation of God, which was for him evidence of that the attacks of Hungary were politically motivated.

Actually, virtually all of the criticism of this opening line of the Hungarian constitution focuses on the fact that the constitution uses the word for “Hungarians” that covers only ethnic Hungarians and not all citizens of the country. So the constituent power invoked in the constitutional preamble fails to include Jews, Roma and members of other ethnic groups who are Hungarian citizens while it also includes ethnic Hungarians outside the territory who are not even citizens. That is why this statement raised red flags to many of us – not because it mentioned God. But the committee did not seem to have a clue about this issue.

Former Hungarian ambassador to the US, András Simonyi did a masterful job Tuesday holding his own as a witness in a show-trial-like situation. He focused on the Hungarian government’s refusal to recognize any limits on its powers and the way its non-transparent deals with Russia threatened to undermine European alliances, including the EU and NATO. Tad Stahnke from Human Rights First eventually got Chairman Rohrabacher to look a bit less sure of himself by mentioning the Hungarian government’s attacks on churches, which the congressman did not seem to know anything about (despite the fact that many of his colleagues signed a letter to the Hungarian government in 2011 protesting the cancellation of the legal status of hundreds of religious organizations and backing up the State Department concerns on this issue).

Chairman Rohrabacher got many of his facts wrong, and many dangerously so, but, since he controlled the chair, no witness could challenge them.For example, he denied all evidence of officially stoked anti-Semitism in Hungary, following the Hungarian government’s line that it is open-minded and tolerant while only the far-right Jobbik party is anti-Semitic. In response to an attempt by witness Tad Stahnke from Human Rights First to explain that the Hungarian government is rewriting Hungarian history through monuments, textbooks and museums to say that the Germans alone were responsible for the Holocaust in Hungary, Rohrabacher mocked the witness and pointed to the existence of open synagogues as the only evidence that was necessary to show that charges of anti-Semitism are baseless.

Chairman Rohrabacher was oblivious of the fact that surveys show levels of anti-Semitism in Hungary and a fear on the part of many Jews in Hungary about their futures there. He also didn’t seem to know that 30 of his Jewish colleagues in the US Congress had written a letter to Prime Minister Orbán protesting the Hungarian government’s rewriting of history again backing up the State Department’s expressed concerns. Chairman Rohrabacher’s denial that Jews in Hungary have reason to be alarmed was not a particularly good demonstration of his solicitude toward religion – or his colleagues.

The hearing made apparent that the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee was living in a parallel universe in which they got to invent their own facts. They paid no attention to the Congressional Research Service report and its careful findings. The three Republican congressmen that stayed throughout the whole hearing (Chairman Rohrabacher and Republican members Randy Weber and Ted Poe from Texas) denied evidence about growing authoritarianism and intolerance in Hungary, which turned the representatives’ description of Hungary into something like the fact-denying opinions of some of their party colleagues on climate change, economic policy and more. Stephen Colbert used to say that “reality has a well-known liberal bias” which is what these committee members seemed to believe. And so they were having none of it.

In fact, Chairman Rohrabacher and his allies on the committee did even worse than engage in denying facts that the Congress’ own research arm established. They followed the script used by the Hungarian government to bash its critics, literally repeating the same questions, the same comparisons and the same defenses of Hungary that I have heard many times from members of the Hungarian government itself.

I was in the audience, but only the official witnesses were allowed to speak. So let me give Chairman Rohrabacher some answers to his questions, given that he did not extend the courtesy to the witnesses to do so. By now I know all about these questions, since Hungarian officials have asked me the very same questions so often.

Chairman Rohrabacher argued that the Obama Administration has singled out Hungary for criticism even though it is no different than many of the US’s allies. He asserted that the UK has no more “checks and balances” than Hungary has – so why pick on Hungary? (The UK is the Hungarian government’s favorite example, too.) But can he really know so little about the government of both places? Yes, the UK has many more checks and balances than Hungary. While the UK, like Hungary, has a parliamentary system in which the parliament elects the prime minister, it also has an upper house – unlike Hungary – as well as a fiercely independent judiciary – unlike Hungary. And it has well-functioning independent accountability offices that can call the government to heel, unlike Hungary. Plus the UK has a robust party system with real choices, a free media and a strong and independent civil society, unlike Hungary. It’s a ridiculous comparison.

Chairman Rohrabacher, backed by Congressman Weber, then argued that Bulgaria and Romania were more or less in the same league, democratically speaking, as Hungary, but they badgered DAS Yee about why the US wasn’t also picking on them. They should have known that both Bulgaria and Romania were let into the EU with asterisks. Neither country fully complied with EU criteria upon entry and both are still under the supervision of the EU Cooperation and Verification Mechanism to ensure their continued progress toward EU standards, which they have not yet met. Hungary, which sailed through without question into the EU more than 10 years ago, should not be in the same league with Bulgaria and Romania because it started off much farther ahead in its democratic performance. The congressmen were right that Hungary is no longer clearly ahead of Bulgaria and Romania, but the comparison is misleading. It’s not, unfortunately, because Bulgaria and Romania have gotten so much better. Instead it is because Hungary has gotten dramatically worse. Since when is an exit by one of its allies from the family of unproblematic democracies of no concern to the US government?

Chairman Rohrabacher also excused the current Hungarian government for gerrymandering the last election because gerrymandering happens in the US too. Yes, both countries gerrymander, but there are big differences between the gerrymanders. In Hungary, a single party gerrymandered the whole country at once, with absolutely no input from any opposition party; in the US, gerrymanders in national elections happen at the state level so there is variation in who captures the process across the country. Plus it is a violation of American election law to exclude all opposition parties from the process of districting, which is precisely what happened in Hungary. In Hungary, there is no judicial review of the district maps to check for unduly self-serving gerrymanders; in the US, court review of districting is routine. Not all gerrymanders are the same. Yes, the US is bad on this – but Hungary is far worse.

Chairman Rohrabacher seems to believe that the US and Hungary both single out politicians for unfair treatment when they are in opposition. If he thinks his party is badly treated under a Democratic administration, I wonder what he would think of being in a parliament where an opposition party would have no chance to introduce bills, make amendments, or even debate most proposals of the government – and where they cannot even see the bills far enough ahead of time to know what they contain before the governing party calls the vote to pass them. Or where any attempt to protest the exclusion of opposition legislators from participation in the legislative process comes with hefty fines against individual members who try to make their views known. I suspect he would think that that was a different world.

I could go on, but you get the picture. The performance of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Tuesday was shameful. The committee allowed itself to be used to parrot the views of the Hungarian government and in so doing, showed what dreadful shape American democratic institutions are in.