In a striking breach of diplomatic protocol, Fidesz MP Gergely Gulyas has written an open letter to US ambassador-designate to Hungary Colleen Bell criticizing statements she made at her Senate confirmation hearing. The original Hungarian version of the letter was published last Wednesday in the 22 January 2014 edition of the pro-government daily Magyar Nemzet. It was also posted online at that publication’s website mno.hu but subsequently removed. It is not known whether Gulyas sent an English version of the letter to Ms. Bell, or whether it was intended primarily for domestic consumption.
The publisher of the pro-government Magyar Nemzet added the following illustration to Mr. Gulyas’ article. It speaks volumes about the mindset of the Fidesz-controlled press.
Budapest, 21 January 2014
Esteemed Ambassador Nominee!
In seeking to represent the United States in Hungary, you have caused legitimate and serious outcry with your uninformed testimony at the Senate [foreign affairs] hearing with regard to Hungary’s domestic policies. Whether intentional or unintentional, you represented a partisan political position on serious issues compromising the effectiveness of ambassadorial duties around the world – especially in Hungary – where your double standards with regard to the center-right government have created great antipathy.
As a parliamentary representative of the Fidesz-Hungarian Civil Association and a member of our parliament’s American-Hungarian Friendship Association, I am interested in ensuring that mutual respect characterizes the cooperation of our two nations on matters of economics, security, human rights, science and culture.
Despite Hungary’s 1000 year old nationhood and its western integration, the country won back its independence less than a quarter century ago after a communist dictatorship following WWII. What the blood spilled by Hungarian freedom-fighters was unable to achieve in 1956 against the Soviets was achieved in a bloodless revolution in 1989-1990. Since 1989, Hungary has been a democratic state with the rule of law. A constitutional democracy, our practice of authority is rooted in the consent given to us by our citizens in free elections for predetermined periods of time. Hungary protects and ensures the freedoms its citizens are born with. It has been this way ever since 1989-1990 under governments representing the left and the right – with the exception of the Fall of 2006, when the socialist government led by Ferenc Gyurcsany unleashed the police on what they said was several hundred violent protesters at which the president of the European People’s Party was in attendance, but later turned out to be tens of thousands peacefully demonstrating. Never since the fall of communism had there been such a brutal assault. The Prime Minister even admitted to this in writing afterwards. This was the only incident since the fall of communism when it would have been warranted for everyone to raise concerns about Hungary’s “checks and balances” and rights to freedom. Unfortunately, in the case of the United States Ambassador to Hungary this was not forthcoming.
In your testimony to the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee you said “Many argue that deep legislative and constitutional changes have hurt the international investment climate, undermined property rights, weakened the judiciary, and centralized power in the hands of the executive.” Then you added, “The United States will have a not-so-easy but necessary talk with Hungary about democracy.”
We will always be ready to engage in dialogue about democracy with our American friends, but due knowledge of the facts and the necessary objective evaluation is an indispensable basic condition. Only this can create the mutual trust that ensures the possibility of discussing any American criticism that might arise, as in the case of clarifying the uncustomary snooping on allies by American clandestine services.
It is indisputable that important changes have taken place in Hungary over the past three and a half years. In 2010, the Hungarian voters gave explicit consent for sweeping changes to the governing party that won with a more than two-thirds parliamentary majority. Basically, the structure of the new constitution has not changed public law governing state institutions since the fall of communism. And it has imposed previously non-existent limitations and checks and balances on the rights of the government’s ruling majority. In 2013, the Parliamentary Assembly of the European Council declared that “Hungary’s parliament had replaced a constitution it had inherited from its earlier one-party system and adopted a new modern constitution utilizing a free and democratic process, intensive parliamentary debate, and an exchange of views with civil society”.
I can assure you that the independence of Hungary’s judicial system is no less assured than in America. Not only does Hungary’s constitution ensure the independence of the judiciary and guarantee its freedom to decide cases as it chooses, but unlike other European democracies, it has also adopted other democratic instruments which also ensures total institutional independence.
With regards to your judgement as to whether government policies have helped or harmed the investment environment, you might find last year’s EU statistical agency’s audit report on the influx of working capital in Hungary more helpful than “the opinion of many” who advise you otherwise. The report states that never since the fall of communism has there such high foreign direct investment in Hungary as in the previous year. We sincerely hope that your future activities will help encourage this trend.
You only cited one-sided criticisms made by unnamed critics and referred them as “many” when you could have just as easily referred to them by name. For example, representative Smith who is co-chair of the Helsinki Committee, who, before visiting Hungary last year, said “After reviewing materials provided by both sides, I must say that the Orban government is right when it says that among the criticisms of Hungary there are many that are unwarranted, where a double standard is used, or that are marked by poor information and contain imprecise information.” The representative also had a message for American diplomats which I urge you to also heed: “We have to be more modest, especially when we are dealing with a country like Hungary where the constitutional checks and balances are alive and flowering, and where a democratically elected party, after winning a free and just election won an unprecedented super-majority, adopted a democratic constitution and is open to collaborate with others on correcting the weaknesses of its new laws.”
In your testimony you also stated that there is particular concern regarding the growing “extreme right parties”. I welcome your use of word in a multiple sense, as it probably suggests you are aware that there is a “left-wing Jobbik” party led by Ferenc Gyurcsany that poses a serious threat to democracy. It would bring me genuine happiness to know that we count on your support in our battle against the aforementioned extremists as well. I find it unfortunate that your testimony in front of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee failed to point out that this government has done more to counter extremism than any other government since the fall of communism. Thanks to the actions of this government hate-speech in parliament or in public is now punishable, as is denying the sins of national-socialists and communism. It was for this very reason that this government supported last year’s Wallenberg Remembrance Year also supported by your government, and that is also why it firmly opposed the Hungarian Guard’s vigilantism which questioned the state’s exclusive right to use force.
You have decided to undertake the duty representing your country in a country with tense internal relations. Therefore, please do me the honor of taking my opinions, which are meant to be helpful, into consideration. Hungarian-American relations have been successful since the fall of communism, but it also has a dark-side during which American diplomats became influenced by our fellow countrymen who are self-proclaimed experts on Hungary. These people are biased in their support of left-liberals. They cannot bear to see that a center-right government was elected to power following a free election. These people conjure the most unimaginable lies to deliberately misinform American diplomats and the public. If their parties do not win in elections they refuse to accept the election results, and they use their influence to incite hate campaigns against the government. The actions of those born here as well as choosing Hungary as their home are equally damaging by simultaneously ruining Hungary’s respectability in the United States and the United States’ respectability in Hungary. I bring this reality to your attention because “the willingness to help” of these individuals have cast shadows on the activities of many of your predecessors in Hungary.
When President Bush visited Hungary in 1989 and gave a speech at Kossuth Square, Hungarian public opinion unanimously held him as the leader of the free world and welcomed him as the messenger of freedom. Unfortunately, since the fall of communism few American ambassadors serving in Hungary have done anything to keep this picture of America from fading away. Believe me, the Iraq war, or concerns regarding human rights as presented in the solicitous clandestine snooping operation, have all done less to harm this picture than the USA’s periodic high-level diplomatic statements about Hungary which occasionally are perceived as not coming from the world’s greatest freedom-pursuing nation’s representatives but rather from Hungarian post-communist liberal politicians.
Hungary will host free elections for the seventh time this year in April, and voters will be able to decide who will represent them in making laws and in government for the next four years. During our decades under communism we greatly envied the West’s democratic struggles. I beg you, please help advance the notion in your homeland that even Hungary’s citizens have this right, and that Hungarians don’t need outsiders help in making decisions about their own future.
There is a Hungarian saying that goes “A bad dress rehearsal will ensure a good show.” We are sure that with regards to your future service as an ambassador, your statements during the senate hearing can be interpreted accordingly.
Member of the American-Hungarian Friendship Association
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