|AHF Letter to President Barack Obama
October 10, 2014
Dear Mr. President:
The American Hungarian Federation, founded as an umbrella organization in 1906, is a strong supporter of good American/Hungarian relations, democracy, human and minority rights and the rule of law. We write in connection with your remarks at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York on September 23, 2014, describing your new initiative promoting civil society and Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) around the world.
Considering the Federation's purposes and that many of our members have throughout their adult lives promoted civil society and NGOs (and some who took up arms against totalitarianisms), we applaud you for your principled stand and leadership. Civil society advocates are threatened, imprisoned and killed in many countries in the world. Hungary, we respectfully submit, is not one of them.
Hungary is a member of the EU and NATO and a democratic state where thousands of NGOs operate freely and where dissent is extensive and vigorous. Since the fall of communism, Hungary has had seven internationally recognized free national elections. Demonstrators in Budapest, including opposition political parties, can freely gather, protest and air whatever grievances they may have against government policies and freely voice their assertions of alleged governmental interference with Norwegian-backed and funded NGOs. Fairness dictates that at a minimum, an impartial review of these matters be concluded before there is a rush to judgment, especially one that equates Hungary with proven repressive countries.
Thus, although we believe that vigilance is necessary to preclude backsliding when it comes to democracy, we are justifiably puzzled and deeply concerned that you lumped Hungary in with Egypt and some of the worst dictatorships of the world in assessing the state of civil society freedoms. Indeed, in the latest Freedom House country rating report, Hungary scored 12 out of 12 points for protecting the associational and organizational rights of NGOs, which was better than the United States' score of 11/12. Moreover, Hungary scored a perfect 12/12 for its electoral process, whereas the United States scored 11/12. Hungary scored 15/16 for freedom of expression and belief, the very same score as the United States. By sharp contrast, with respect to NGO freedoms, Egypt scored an abysmal 4/12, while Viet Nam, also mentioned in your address, scored a deplorable 1/12.
We therefore respectfully call upon you to retract that part of your statement that unjustifiably places Hungary in the same category with Egypt and other such repressive countries. Doing so would help alleviate the concern, confusion and disbelief found in our community about the United States views of Hungary, a democratic ally. It would also serve to advance the goals of the United States in the region.
We also respectfully urge you to consider the following two issues in connection with your new policies -- partnering and protecting civil society groups, creating innovative centers, and increasing funding for the Community of Democracies:
(1) When it comes to supporting civil society groups in established and working democracies such as Hungary, transparent and very specific guidelines should be adopted and thorough reviews conducted as to which NGOs are to receive U.S. support, if any. Such guidelines and scrutiny are necessary to guarantee that groups -- conservative or liberal, pro- or anti-government -- that are actually politically partisan entities not receive American support on a disproportionate or discriminatory basis. Even if Hungarian law does not prohibit foreign donations to political campaigns as U.S. laws and regulations do, the absence of such scrutiny and evenhandedness would be less than fortunate. It would alienate democratic Hungarians and give the unavoidable appearance that the U.S. is interfering in the democratic processes of that country and with the democratically expressed wishes of its people when they cast their ballots. In fact, it would appear to some, as erroneous as that perception might be, as if the U.S. is seeking to overturn a democratic result. We fear that this perception would play into the hands of anti-Western radicals by fostering disillusionment in a strong ally and damage U.S. interests by weakening the unity and solidarity that today is so needed to combat terrorists and the growing aggression of Russia; and
(2) Attention should at long last be directed at countries neighboring Hungary which continue to discriminate against their Hungarian minorities. For example, Romania still fails to return communal and religious properties that had been confiscated by the previous communist regime and fails to investigate, prosecute or even condemn vandals who commit hate crimes by defacing Hungarian monuments with anti-Hungarian graffiti. Another example is Slovakia which has adopted discriminatory language and citizenship laws. Failure to address these and other well-documented violations of minority rights, acts of discrimination and instances of intolerance give the appearance of a double standard and would erode the effectiveness of your new policies.
Thank you for considering these important issues which we believe, if appropriately addressed, will substantially contribute to the success of your policies, promote and strengthen civil society, and advance good bi-lateral relations with Hungary -- all interests of the United States. We stand ready to assist you in these endeavors.
In related news, AHF later sent a letter to Victoria Nuland Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs on October 22, 2014:
The Honorable Victoria Nuland
Dear Ms. Nuland:
The American Hungarian Federation, founded as an umbrella organization in 1906, is a strong supporter of good American/Hungarian relations, democracy, human and minority rights and the rule of law. We write in connection with two aspects of your keynote address on October 2 at the 2014 U.S. – Central Europe Strategy Forum: developing an effective policy toward Hungary which you implicitly suggested in your address is backsliding from democracy; and the absence of any reference in your address to the pernicious role that violations of minority rights play in undermining democracy, stability and security in the region. We also write in connection with the recent banning of ten Hungarians from traveling to the United States.
1) Although we are gratified by the recent and more focused attention to Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), we are concerned that Hungary, a proven U.S. and NATO ally and a democratic country with considerable support from the voting public, is often misjudged, as when, for example, it is compared with repressive countries such as Egypt. See the attached letter to President Obama. Such misjudgments result in flawed and self-defeating policies that foster disillusionment in a strong ally and thereby damage U.S. strategic interests by weakening the unity and solidarity that today is urgently needed to combat terrorists and the growing aggression of Russia. Five factors contribute to the misjudgments and disillusionments:
First, Americans are a forward looking people with little interest in history, ignoring Confucius’ observation, “Study the past if you would define the future.” The 20th century was anything but kind to Hungary. See the Appendix. It was certainly not conducive to the uneventful and smooth development of democracy as we understand that term today.
Hungarians have a proud tradition of fighting for independence, freedom and liberty even against overwhelming odds. But by expecting Hungary to seamlessly and instantaneously set the pillars of 21st century democracy in a few short years without bumps along the road, we ignore the impact of the moral, spiritual and material wasteland left in the wake of the turmoil of the last 100 years, especially by Soviet occupation. Even in countries untouched by such devastating external phenomena, democracy took time to evolve – a process that continues even today. For instance, in the 1920’s the Ku Klux Klan had over 4 million members and it took 100 years from the Civil War for the U.S. Congress to enact the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Second, the countries of CEE, excluding Russia or the former Soviet Union have often been neglected by the United States. This benign neglect has resulted in a fundamental misunderstanding of the United States and its values. In the immediate post-communist era the euphoria quickly dissipated. It was erroneously assumed that since free elections were held, democracy had been restored and history had ended. Therefore nothing more needed to be done, such as developing standards on minority rights in countries with large Hungarian communities.
Third, to the extent the United States has been engaged in Hungary there has been a widespread perception for some time, as erroneous as it may be, that it has favored the Hungarian left. It is imperative that the U.S. should now address those democratic-minded Hungarians who supported and continue to support the center, center right and are bewildered by what they perceive has been an absence of evenhandedness. There is a chance, however, that if the U.S. fails to dispel the perception of favoritism, these disappointed long-time friends of America may adopt more cynical attitudes (with the disappointment playing into the hands of anti-Western radicals) and thus weaken the alliance. This development would be contrary to the interests of both countries.
Fourth, there has been a tendency by officials to publicly lecture Hungarians in what they perceive is a patronizing and humiliating manner. The lectures even extend to questions that are truly internal matters, such as Hungarians’ debates on their history. At the same time, there is little or no public criticism of repressive countries, such as Saudi Arabia.
Finally, the United States tends to overlook Hungary’s and the region’s painful post-communist transformation, exacerbated by economic stagnation, joblessness, recession and mismanagement of previous regimes.
The impact on Hungary and its current political environment of these five factors must be taken into consideration if we are to fine-tune and develop a sound and effective policy toward that country that advances U.S. interests and policy goals in the region and reestablishes strong bilateral ties.
2) We are puzzled why in an address relating to democracy and security in CEE you failed to mention the need for countries with Hungarian minority populations to respect minority rights. A government that fails or refuses to respect minority rights can hardly be deemed to be genuinely democratic, even if it has come to power through the ballot. This was clearly recognized during the first round of NATO's enlargement when, for example, in March 1997 then Senator Biden said, “Senators will determine whether the prospective [NATO] members maintain democratic institutions, respect civil and minority rights . . . ." (Emphasis added.) See also:
Minority rights have nothing to do with borders or separatism as some erroneously assert in order to ignore their international legal obligations. They have everything to do with meaningful and enduring stability in CEE. The Hungarian minorities who seek redress for their grievances strictly through democratic, i.e., non-violent, means themselves contribute substantially to sustainable stability in the region.
A fundamental change in Western thinking and policies, therefore, is urgently needed and long overdue. There must be visible support for measures that are intended to assist Hungarians living as minorities maintain their unique culture in their ancient homeland and to overcome the effects of discrimination, persecution, and in some instances violence they have faced. For instance, the U.S. ought to encourage Romania to return communal properties, e.g., churches, that were confiscated by the communists, to their respective Hungarian minorities and to grant minorities their legitimate demands for autonomy that they have long requested – generally cultural autonomy – to enable them to preserve their culture. Autonomy is a democratic mechanism that is successfully used in Europe. It is a form of internal self-determination that leaves borders intact, thus also promoting stability and security. The stability flowing from collective rights is of interest to Hungary, the U.S. and NATO. See also:
We, therefore, respectfully urge you to include the issue of minority rights for Hungarians as you continue to address democracy, stability and security in CEE.
3) The banning of corrupt individuals from entering the United States is another opportunity for Washington to advance a laudable goal. As noted by the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, "The U.S. Department of Justice has established an anti-kleptocracy unit to expand capacity to pursue cases in which ill-gotten wealth overseas is found to have a U.S. connection." Corruption cannot, must not be tolerated. It needs to be eradicated wherever found. If not halted, it will undermine democracy and the free market system. We, therefore, support U.S. anti-corruption initiatives.
However, in order to be effective selective prosecution should be meticulously avoided. The anti-corruption campaign and bans should apply across the board where justified, regardless of political affiliation and not limited to just one political party as it appears is happening today. The bans should also be applied to individuals from other countries in the region that are notoriously corrupt, such as Romania. Moreover, it is essential that the anti-corruption drive not be seen as a manifestation of a blunt instrumentality of political pressure. That impression unfortunately is spreading. As one blogger, Eva Balogh, who is a harsh critic of the Hungarian government acknowledged in a post on October 17:
The appearance of selective enforcement and the use of anti-corruption measures as a “big gun” for political purposes that are unrelated to corruption, coupled with the other issues noted in this letter merely befuddle and alienate the Hungarian people and undermine U.S. goals. On the other hand, good bilateral relations with Hungary, drawing Hungary closer to the U.S., as well as the promotion of minority rights and the eradication of corruption throughout the region on an equitable basis are strategic interests of the United States in CEE. These are the policies, we respectfully urge, that should be pursued vigorously but judiciously. They are of great concern to our community. We, therefore, stand ready to assist you in these endeavors.
Thank you for considering these important issues.
Hungary and Hungarians in the Twentieth Century
Human and Minority Rights Denied Hungarian Minorities
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10/22/14 - AHF submits letter to US Asst. Secretary of State Victoria Nuland: "The appearance of selective enforcement and the use of anti-corruption measuresas a “big gun” for political purposes that are unrelated to corruption, coupled with the other issues noted in this letter merely befuddle and alienate the Hungarian people and undermine U.S. goals...Corruption cannot, must not be tolerated. It needs to be eradicated wherever found. If not halted, it will undermine democracy and the free market system. We, therefore, support U.S. anti-corruption initiatives. However, in order to be effective, selective prosecution should be meticulously avoided." [read more]
11/14/14 - AHF meets with National Security Council and State Department Officials - On Friday, November 14, 2014, Frank Koszorus, Jr., President of the American Hungarian Federation, and Paul Kamenar and Imre Nemeth, members of the Federation's International Relations Committee, met with Nathaniel Dean, Director for Central and North European Affairs at the National Security Council, Thomas O. Melia, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, and Ivan Weinstein, Desk Officer for Hungary at the Department of State. [read more]
5/9/2014 - AHF Submits Letter to Secretary of State John Kerry expressing concern that the US Embassy's public (as opposed to private) statement about Hungary's history concerning the treacherous year of 1944 may have the unintended consequence of alienating Hungarians at a time when NATO needs to be unified and resolute in confronting the challenges posed by Ukraine and Russia. [more]
5/11/2012 - Budapest’s Central European University hosted a one-day conference to mark the 90th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Hungary and the United States on May 9th. The conference, co-organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the US Embassy in Budapest, was opened by Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi and US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Bay Fang. [more]
01/04/11 - AHF Issues its First Statement on Hungarian Media Law: "A Rush to Judgment: The Reaction to the Hungarian Media Law." [more]
5/11/2010 - "Meggyőzni Washingtont..." American Hungarian Federation president calls for even-handedness in media coverage on Hungary in Heti Válasz interview following Fidesz's landslide victory in recently held parliamentary elections.
"Miben tudna segíteni az amerikai magyar emigráció az óhazának, amikor a jobbközép győzelmét ismét fanyalogva fogadja az amerikai sajtó?
6/11/2008 - Sen. Schumer suggests return of Russia's hegemony in Central and East Europe... AHF (and Central and East European Coalition) sends letter and calls on community to express its concern. On June 3, 2008, Senator Schumer (D-NY) published an article in The Wall Street Journal entitled "Russia Can Be Part of the Answer on Iran." In this article, Sen. Schumer suggests that stronger economic sanctions would help deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The effectiveness of the sanctions, according to Sen. Schumer, will require Russia's cooperation. [read more]
1/11/2013 - AHF again responds to Senator Ben Cardin, Co-Chair of the US Helsinki Commission. In his December 20, 2012 statement, the Senator was unfairly critical of Hungary. "...we are concerned that (1) your assertions concerning Hungary omit relevant facts; and (2) your statement fails to raise the discrimination and intolerant policies toward ethnic Hungarians in some of the countries bordering Hungary. The statement therefore leaves the impression... of bias, which could result in cynicism toward the Helsinki Commission and its valuable and necessary work." [read more]
7/22/2010 - AHF reacts to The Washington Post Editorial: "...the editorial, 'Hungary's Strongest Leader Targets the Media,' [July 19], seems to equate the prevailing sentiment in Hungary in support for minority rights and the new passport law with extremism. Nothing is farther from the truth." AHF letters reminded editors about the current extremism [see Slovak Language Law] in neighboring countries and explained that the legacy of Trianon continues to affect the lives of millions of ethnic Hungarians today. The letters also pointed out the fact that dual citizenship is a common and globally accepted practice even in those same countries that would discriminate against an ethnic Hungarian exercising his rights. AHF feels The Post missed the point and mixed unrelated issues. However, we appreciate the fact the The Post's editorial included a link to AHF's page on the Treaty of Trianon.
Letters included those from members Frank Koszorus, Jr., AHF President; Bryan Dawson, AHF Executive Chairman; and Geza Cseri, former Science and Technology Advisor to the Allied Supreme Commanders of NATO. The Post published a Letter to Editor from Geza Jeszenszky, former Ambassador to the United States and Foreign Minister.
All four letters appear in that order below:
Based on erroneous assumptions and a casual understanding of the challenges confronting Hungarians, the editorial, "Hungary's strongest leader targets the media," [July 19], seems to equate the prevailing sentiment in Hungary in support for minority rights and the new passport law with extremism. Nothing is farther from the truth. Consequently, the editorial appears biased and falls short of the high standard The Post sets for itself.
Remembering the Treaty of Trianon, which transferred over three million ethnic Hungarians to foreign rule, is neither polarizing nor a concern of only the right, as the editorial also suggests. Rather it is an issue today because some of Hungary's neighbors discriminate against their Hungarian minorities. Slovakia, which adopted a language law prohibiting the use of Hungarian in public, or Romania, which refuses to re-establish a former Hungarian university, are examples. If these countries respected minority rights, Trianon would be relegated to the history books.
Perhaps next time The Post will examine the facts a little more closely.
Frank Koszorus, Jr.
I was confused by the editorial, "Hungary's strongest leader targets the media," [July 19]. The merits (or lack thereof) of government media controls has little or nothing to do with passports or citizenship which are matters of national identity, not nationalism. Dual-citizenship is a common practice throughout the world as is autonomy and respect for local, historic communities. Is the U.S. nationalist for allowing Americans to live abroad and keep their passports? Is the US extreme for accepting dual citizenship with Britain, France or Mexico? Is Hungary extreme for accepting dual citizenship for ethnic Slovaks living in Hungary? Slovakia accepts dual citizenship for some, but will not extend the same rights to ethnic Hungarians who have lived in their own communities for over 1,100 years. As such, it is clearly discriminatory. Unfortunately, the law to rescind Slovak citizenship for ethnic Hungarians who exercise their right to apply for Hungarian citizenship on Saturday, July 17, 2010.
Is the concern for the basic human rights of an ethnic minority an extremist, extreme right-wing position? Are Catalonians extreme for wanting to speak Catalan with the postman in Catalonia? How about speaking French in Quebec? Spanish in Miami? Italian in Switzerland? Slovakia, under a truly nationalist government that include Jan Slota who called Hungarians, “the cancer of the Slovak nation,” passed a law making it illegal to converse in Hungarian with a Hungarian postman in a post office in an 1100-year old Hungarian village.
For the 40 years of communist rule, it was taboo to discuss topics such as Trianon and asserting rights for ethnic minorities as to not disturb the “socialist brotherhood of nations.” Does the Post long for the brotherhood’s return? As the link you provided explained so well, any objective observer would see Trianon as a huge miscarriage of justice that continues to affect the lives of millions today. It is not a right-wing, extremist issue, it is an issue of human and minority rights that should transcend the political spectrum. The firm re-establishment of democracy in Hungary allows for a full examination of these topics, however uncomfortable for the West who bears the responsibility for creating these minorities and ethnic strife in the first place.
When it comes to the Treaty of Trianon, you are telling to the Hungarians to forget it. How can you forget that your arms and legs are cut off, and millions of your brothers are under foreign rule, because that is what happened at Trianon. The Treaty unjustly, with malice, deprived Hungary of 65% of her inhabitants and 72% of her territory, an area as large as Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio or Kentucky combined. The dismemberment also created 16 million ethnic minorities, including millions of Hungarians. This treaty totally altered the political balance of Central Europe which then led to the Balkanization of the area and created the political and economy hardships and turmoil to the country and the area. There are no extremists on this issue since practically the whole nation laments the injustice of Trianon.
If there is revisionalism in Hungary, it is fueled by Slovakia, Romania, Ukraine and Serbia because of their oppressive and discriminatory policies. Slovakia, by the Benes Decrees and its language law prohibiting the use of Hungarian in public, or Romania, which refuses to re-establish a Hungarian university, or the continuous physical beatings of ethnic Hungarians by the Serbs in Voivodina are examples.
I hope that in the future, The Post will be more mindful of the facts and reality.
An unfair portrayal of Hungarian politics - 7/24/2010
The July 19 editorial "Hungary's rightward lunge" was as inaccurate as it was unfair. It also revealed a superficial understanding of Hungary and Fidesz, the party that just won a landslide victory in the parliamentary elections this spring. A few examples:
In 2002, Hungary's prime minister, Viktor Orbán, did not cater to "Hungary's extreme right," as the editorial stated, but successfully opposed it and helped oust its representatives from parliament by defeating them during the elections.
Although Washington did not welcome Hungary's decision to purchase fourth-generation Swedish-British Gripen fighter planes rather than used American F-16s, it did not make Mr. Orbán persona non grata and a pariah, as the editorial suggested. In March 2002, President George W. Bush telephoned Mr. Orbán and invited him to visit the United States following the elections, which looked like an almost certain victory for Mr. Orbán's Fidesz Party.
As a staunch friend of the United States and an appreciative reader of The Post, I hope that the editorial policy relating to Hungary will be more balanced and factual in the future.
Géza Jeszenszky, Budapest
Key Dates in Hungarian-American Diplomatic Relations: Diplomatic relations between Hungary and the United States were formally established in 1922, although unofficial contacts have been present ever since the War of Independence. Colonel Commandant Michael Kováts, a Hungarian nobleman is regarded as the founder of the American Cavalry, and was one of the first heroes to lay down his life for American independence near Charleston, South Carolina. Friendly relations between the two nations were further enhanced through Lajos Kossuth’s visit to the United States in 1851 – whose bust is one of the few foreign nationals present in the Capitol Rotunda. Kossuth was the second foreign national – after the Marquis de LaFayette – ever to be given the honor of speaking before a joint session of Congress.