January 21st, 2015

Guest Post: What is the endgame for U.S.-Hungarian relations?

[Editor’s Note: The following op-ed piece is by Frank Koszorus, Jr., a Washington, D.C. Attorney who serves as President of the American Hungarian Federation. Politics.hu welcomes submissions for op-ed pieces pertaining to Hungary.]

During my trip to Hungary over the 2014 Thanksgiving holidays, as President of the American Hungarian Federation (AHF), I participated in The Budapest FORUM to improve US-Hungary relations which was co-sponsored by AHFand its sister foundation in Hungary, the Amerikaiak a Magyarokért Alapítvány, or AMKA). In addition to me, the participants included U.S. Charge d’ Affaires André Goodfriend and Gyula (Jules) Balogh, President of AMKA. The Forum was the first in a series to be held to address the hoped-for restoration of the excellent relations that the United States has had with Hungary for many years, but which has been deteriorating recently. This first of a kind forum brought together parties holding differing views on the political landscape of Hungary and the bilateral relations between the two natural allies. The purpose of the FORUM was to candidly exchange ideas and better understand these various perspectives.

During the constructive, spirited and polite discussion of the concerns Hungarians and American Hungarians had with the U.S. government’s approach to Hungary and issues the United States had with Hungary, I read a moving letter from an apolitical professor in Hungary who is a strong friend of the United States but who nevertheless reiterated the widely-held perception that the U.S. was demeaning and humiliating the Hungarian people with its overwhelming and incessant barrage of public comments and criticisms, much of which, many feel, are overstated, unwarranted and bereft of evenhandedness. The criticism often and inexplicably singles out Hungary and even extends to topics that are generally in the purview of matters left to internal discourse of sovereign states, e.g., historical events and figures.

This type of public involvement in Hungary’s internal affairs repeated itself on January 12, 2015 when Charge d’Affaires Goodfriend in a Tweet quoted Stephen I, the first king of Hungary (975–1038) and its patron saint, urging his son Emeric to welcome foreigners. The Tweet was highly publicized and clearly made in response to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s policy statement after the rally in Paris held on January 11 in response to the terrorist attack that Hungary and Europe should, with the exception of political asylum, curb economic immigration.

Without addressing the merits of the proposed policy itself, public commentary by a U.S. official regarding Hungary’s immigration policy is ironic and could undermine American interests in the region. It is especially ironic in this case because immigration is a divisive issue in the United States that involves an ongoing raging and intense debate. Indeed, immigration reform, including tougher border enforcement legislation, is a hotly debated issue that promises to be part of the American political landscape for some time to come.

Americans, officials and the man-on-the-street, would undoubtedly bristle if the French, German, British, Hungarian or any other ambassador to Washington were to ignore diplomatic etiquette and publicly pontificate about American immigration policies and legislation. It, therefore, shouldn’t come as a surprise if critical public statement about Hungary’s immigration views humiliate and alienate many Hungarians who support NATO and its now ever more critical mission. This, in turn, could have the unintended and detrimental consequence of undermining U.S. strategic interests in the region. Indeed, good bilateral relations between the United States and Hungary and a strong and united NATO are in the interest of both countries and necessary to meet the formidable challenges posed by Russia and terrorism.

Winning Hungarian public opinion, instead of alienating it with gratuitous remarks about internal matters such as immigration, is critical to advance these key American goals. Given her passion, perseverance and experience, we have every reason to hope that The Honorable Colleen Bell, the new U.S. ambassador to Budapest, will be sensitive to these issues and thereby diplomatically promote U.S. strategic goals in the region.

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  • Good writing. No doubt Hungarian public opinion gets more and more negative about the USA and that holds true for the opinion of non-political people, too. (The leftlib Orbán-haters hardly matter because of their small share and their being marginalized increasingly.)

    • Varga

      Just like the good ol’ days right Leto? When we were taught in schools that the big bad USA wanted to kill us. What a joke, if you want to be under Russia’s thumb, move there.

      • wolfi

        And the good news is:

        He didn’t mention Trianon!

        Probably just forgot it after talking himself into a kind of rage …

        • George Dunn

          SO, you think Trianon has no relevance here? A treaty that weakened Central Europe beyond repair and keeps on giving? A treaty that ensured Soviet and Russian expansionism Westward? A treaty that caused the horrors of civil war in Yugoslavia and continues to foment intolerant policies that divide and further destabilize and weaken Central Europe in the face of Putinism? No… not relevant at all.

      • No, you move elsewhere if “you want to be under the USA’s thumb”

        • Varga

          The USA has no authority here asshole, so quit with the fear mongering. We have a far bigger threat from a power much closer to us. Keep licking Putins boots, you may have to refer to him as our “dear leader” one day. I could care less that Fidesz won elections, what I care more about is HOW they won, LIES, CHEATING AND STEALING all the way to victory! I feel sorry for you once this all comes to a head.

          • But they want authority here and you’re licking their boots so that they could dictate like just the Soviet Union did. Good old times, eh, büdöskomcsi? 😉

            Re: Fidesz cheating with those eight huge election victories since 2006:


          • Varga

            The USA will never have authority here, anyone who would beleive that needs medication, so what you are accusing me of is clearly projecting your own guilt for your communistic views. You are the one who can thank the communists for your education so I presume this is why you are eternally grateful to Russia for the free ride. Like I said, I feel sorry for you once this all comes to a head.

          • “The USA will never have authority here”

            No, but that’s only despite your rotten “liberal” ilk.

          • Varga

            I think a trip to the Austrian wellness center is in order for you.

          • I think a trip to that wailing wall is in order for you.

          • gavroche

            rotten liberal ilk

          • Indeed.

          • gavroche

            who is licking whose what?

          • I suggest you should improve your English comprehension skills first with some intermediate level textbook.

          • gavroche

            budoskomcsi fereg

          • George Dunn

            Sorry, Varga, as one who understands the value of NATO, especially during a time of renewed Russian aggression, the lack of US authority in Hungary is irrelevant. What IS relevant are the effects of this bumbling media-circus-based “diplomacy” on relations not only between the US and Hungary but also with NATO and on Hungarian public sentiment toward the West. Diplomacy should seek to foster improving relations, especially amongst allies, not drive the voting populace away from the center into Jobbik’s (and Putin’s) welcoming arms.

          • Varga

            I understand where you are coming from George, but we were talking about being under the control of the USA, they may influence, but have no desire to control Hungary, I am pretty sure of that.

          • George Dunn

            The Americans have been upset with Orban ever since Hungary’s decision to not buy F-16s and go with Gripens. Orban seems to have a “French” tendency to go with the better deal and thinks less of the bilateral political consequences. France, as we saw in teh Mistral deal, gets away with it as they are bigger and harder to push around. Orban did the same with the Paks reactor after the West’s terms were not as favorable as Russia’s and did the same with his support for South Stream when the West had no plan to circumvent Russian energy dependency and the US was unwilling to export LNG. Add to that the bumbling media circus from the US and ignoring some very real issues facing Hungarians within and without Hungary creates an intolerable and inexcusable atmosphere. Do American want to “control” Hungary? I wouldn’t close that chapter just yet. If American support for and unwillingness to criticise the former Gyurcsany government who would do anything the US wanted is any indication, then control just may be the objective. In any case, Mr. Goodfriend and the US need to understand the consequences for pissing off Hungarians. We already see more support for anti-Western Jobbik. Coincidence? Hardly. If anyone knows a Hungarian, as I have learned, they don’t easily forgive and have LONG memories. BUT, it matters less who is in power. The point is how diplomacy toward an ally should be handled and its purpose.

          • Spot on, in each point you made.

          • NoErica

            Forward and/or watch to 0.22 seconds.

            American soldiers where THEY claim that Russians have bombed in the Ukraine questioned by a UKRAINIAN newscast.


          • There’s loads of evidence for the presence of US soldiers, “military advisers” or “private soldiers” (Blackwater-like) in Ukraine.

        • gavroche

          absolutely disgusting extremist ilk. no comments

          • Yeah, that’s about the fifth “no comment” comment from you now.

  • MagyarViking

    “apolitical professor in Hungary”

    That was the joke of the day…

    • Democrat

      He did not have the guts to make the remarks himself. So he has to attribute them to a puppet. Of course he declines to name the esteemed professor.

      • George Dunn

        It’s called respecting the privacy of someone who didn’t want to be named. He made enough remarks himself.

        • Curious George

          When I saw it was an AHF article, I thought to myself, “George Dunn is going to show his face”.

          • George Dunn

            Indeed! I have been on their email list for years and do enjoy the perspective. Rare in the hyper-sensational Murdoch era.

  • MagyarViking

    public commentary by a U.S. official regarding Hungary’s immigration policy is ironic

    Yes, obviously not as ironic as “public commentary by Hungary’s PM regarding UK’s immigration policy”

    • Michaelinlondon1234

      UK is in the EU at the moment so debates re immigration in the EU are going to comment on different countries in the EU.
      The US is not part of the EU.

  • news guy

    US immigration policies … hhmmm … stunning … are they talking about the killing of the North American native population, and sticking the leftover into reserves, which given the semi-nomad lifestyle of natives effectively meant concentration camps?

    • George Dunn

      I believe that is the point made in the letter Mr. “News Guy.”

  • Hungarian

    The US governments comments have been aimed at the curent government not the Hungarian people.

    Since 75% of Hungarian do not support Fidesz most probably agree with US comments.

    • FUCeausescu

      Talk about fuzzy math there Hungarian. Out of those 75%, over half of them are not interested in politics, that is why they did not vote. Those people most likely have no clue what is going on and most likely never even heard of any of these issues. The second-largest voting block are Jobbik supporters, who are unlikely to agree with most of what comes via the US. And then we are left with those less than 20% who support various left-leaning parties. They and their leaeders always jump on the bandwagon, whenever current government is attacked from outside, regardless whether postion right for Hungary or not.

      This is the real picture, not 25% for Fidesz and the rest opposed as you try to always portray it.

      • Saint Coemgen

        “Out of those 75%, over half of them are not interested in politics, that is why they did not vote. Those people most likely have no clue what is going on and most likely never even heard of any of these issues.”

        Hungarians are quite well informed about what happens in their country. They are far from politically ignorant. Even the ones that state they do not vote. In fact, it is uncommon in Hungary to attend any social event that does not include one or more political discussions. Don’t confuse refusing to vote with being disinterested in politics.

        Many of those that do not vote are simply those who are not strongly beholding to some party — i.e. they are not party loyalists. And they either believe it simply does not matter what party is currently in power (anyone in power will simply enrich themselves and their personal inner circles), or see no viable alternatives so have deferred voting for now.

  • “Hungary for Hungarians?” How does that work exactly?

    • George Dunn

      I believe it’s about shared values. Hungary, for a millennia, has been a true melting pot of cultures that eventually developed into a “Hungarian” identity. The issue is less about immigration and more about having a plan to integrate and the immigrants’ willingness to take on a new identity and share the values of the host country. We have issues here in the UK as does France and others in the EU. It is a valid debate. I believe the US has a different experience and has been far more successful in integrating immigrant communities, although I see the debate rages there as well.

      • It seems to me the “shared values” notion is rather subjective and therefore problematic, especially for a fledgling democracy such as Hungary. Do these values refer to Christianity, political ideology, a common history, language, culture or all of the above? What about race? Jews, Romas and Muslims? I just wonder if Hungary ought to be running a narrative of exclusion instead inclusion. There would be no Hungarian-Americans such as myself were it not for America’s commitment to inclusion. Yes, the U.S. is a nation of immigrants and I hope the policy of inclusion will prevail.

        • George Dunn

          Agreed. We in the UK have a similar history. My own family immigrated from Ireland in the 19th century. As Catholics, the perceived lack of “shared values” were problematic then. Spurring the current debate, and Orban’s comments, was the Charlie Ebdo shooting. The 21st century is a different time and the world is more polarized with radical Islamists (and others) willing to deliver senseless violence against innocents. I wonder if we can ever find “share values” if there is no effort made to educate and lift people out of ghettos and poverty of material and mind. Is Hungary ready and able to absorb economic immigrants, Muslim or not? In any case, I am sure you agree this is a complex issue worth debating.

        • NoErica

          How about Israel?

          What ever happened to Bush’s are you with us or against us?

          -I guess you are with them.

          (Don’t believe that you were born Hungarian)

          Also, don’t give this ‘Hungarian-Americans’ bullshit.

          In the U.S. you are American or not.

          Brainwashed to the max.

          • I would respond, NoErika, were you a tad more rational and less emotional. Your thought process appears to be disconnecting, fragmenting into slurs and vulgarisms. Check your facts, please! I was, in point of fact, born in Budapest, and I have lived there in the 50’s, the 80’s, and again in the 90’s, gaining a perspective of life under communism and under capitalism. Have you had that experience?

          • Please read my book DAUGHTER OF THE REVOLUTION published in Hungary and America. It’s about a fourteen year-old Hungarian girl who is a student one day and a freedom fighter the next, fighting Soviet tanks. If you give me your address, I’ll send you a free copy. I have had Palestinian, Israeli, Russian and Cuban-American students who read the book as a struggle of the weak against the strong, but the book never suggests that all Hungarians are good or that all Russian are bad. Indeed, it is linear, fragmented thinking that leads to one-sided nationalistic invective, intolerance, hatred, violence and ultimately … jihad.

  • Pibroch

    Who said it?
    “The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was an unmitigated disaster of which the Iraqis and the international community are still paying the price.”

    • A Hungarian diplomat in the USA?

    • George Dunn

      Excellent analogy. It was the French Ambassador to the US who, according to this article in Foreign Policy and unlike Mr. Goodfriend, understood he needed to tone down the rhetoric.

      “But as he takes up residence this month in Washington, Araud appears to be having second thoughts about his war on diplomatic platitudes. One day before arriving in Washington, Araud warned his Twitter followers that he may have to take a more measured, if not perfectly boring, approach to his new job, which requires selling brand France to Americans, entertaining Washington’s elite, and shoring up U.S.-France relations. That’s particularly important now because France is weighing American entreaties to get more involved in the military campaign against the Islamic State militants now ruling much of Iraq.”


      • Pibroch

        Interesting. Thanks for posting the Foreign Policy link.

  • Michaelinlondon1234

    U.S. strategic interests in the region. They live half way round the world and yet they behave like Hitler and Napoléon did.

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