Senate confirms Bell’s appointment as US ambassador to Hungary

December 2, 2014

Bell, Colleen Bradley

By a vote of 52 in favor to 42 opposed, the US Senate today confirmed Colleen Bradley Bell’s nomination as US ambassador to Hungary.

President Obama nominated the producer of “The Bold and the Beautiful” ambassador delegate to Hungary on 6 November 2013, one month after The New York Times reported that Bell was one of Obama’s top campaign fundraisers. A television producer by profession, she is active in a number of foundations dealing with the arts and various social issues.

On 16 January 2014 Bell appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. While she sailed through her opening statement, the questions/answers section proved to be more of a challenge. Al Kamen of the Washington Post reported the weakness of Bell’s response to Senator John McCain’s question, “What are our strategic interests in Hungary?”

She replied: “Well, we have our strategic interests, in terms of what are our key priorities in Hungary, I think our key priorities are to improve upon, as I mentioned, the security relationship and also the law enforcement and to promote business opportunities, increase trade… ” McCain interrupted: “I’d like to ask again what our strategic interests in Hungary are.”

“’Our strategic interests are to work collaboratively as NATO allies,” Bell said, “to work to promote and protect the security, both—for both countries and for—and for the world, to continue working together on the cause of human rights around the world, to build that side of our relationship while also maintaining and pursuing some difficult conversations that might be necessary in the coming years.”

“Great answer,” McCain said, dripping scorn.

Colleen gets her bell rung by Fidesz

The following day Hungary’s pro-government media and numerous Fidesz officials criticized the ambassador-designate’s performance at the confirmation hearing.  However, such criticisms were primarily directed at Bell’s prepared statement, not her response to Senator McCain’s questioning.

Headlines appearing in Hungary’s pro-government media read “Washington wants to lecture us on democracy” (Magyar Hirlap, 18 January 2014), “America’s Ambassador-nominee on the attack”  (Magyar Nemzet, 18 January 2014) and “The Ambassador-designate insulted the whole country” (Magyar Nemzet, 23 January 2014).

On 21 January 2014 Magyar Nemzet even published an open letter authored by Fidesz MP Gergely Gulyas which criticized Bell for her testimony.

(The open letter 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 an illustration to Mr. Gulyas’ article that speaks volumes about the mindset of the Fidesz-controlled press. The Budapest Beacon found a copy of  Gulyas’ open letter to Bell and translated it into English for her benefit, along with the illustration.)