05/30/2018 - AHF issues statement on US strategic interests and improved American Hungarian relations: "A proposed intervention last November by the Department of State into Hungary’s media environment is emblematic of the misguided policy that represents a risk to U.S. strategic interests and therefore deserves thoughtful scrutiny."
The statement appears in full-text below and available for [download]
May 30, 2018
Chairman’s Corner: Quo Vadis Department of State -- A Critique of U.S. Policy in Hungary
A proposed intervention last November by the Department of State into Hungary’s media environment is emblematic of the misguided policy that represents a risk to U.S. strategic interests and therefore deserves thoughtful scrutiny. This review is especially needed now that the Hungarian ruling party, Fidesz, and its Prime Minister Viktor Orbán won a sweeping victory in April’s national election.
Even before the election, U.S. interests had already been eroded by the barrage of public criticism leveled against Hungary and its Prime Minister by numerous representatives of the American media and foreign policy players even though it is a strong and reliable U.S. and NATO ally. Now the targets of the public criticism have been given a strong mandate by the Hungarian voters. Will the U.S. tweak its policies in furtherance of its interests and take the political realities on the ground into consideration?
It can be hoped that last week’s meeting between Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo turned the page on U.S./Hungarian bilateral relations.
No less an authoritative figure than Senator John McCain – a known critic of Hungary – has acknowledged that the “United States is grateful for the strong international cooperation that we enjoy with Hungary, and its willingness to play a leadership role on behalf of international peace and security.”
DRL did so by announcing a "Notice of Funding Opportunity" of $700,000 in American tax dollars to be awarded to a non-profit grantee for the support of "objective media" in Hungary. This raises the spectre of the DRL adjudicating what constitutes real and objective news in Hungary while the United States itself is riven by a nationwide debate as to what constitutes genuine as opposed to “fake news.”
The DRL proposal ignores that Reporters Without Borders, a respected NGO that monitors the state of the press around the world, ranks Hungary’s press freedoms above that of Japan and Israel, both allies of the United States. Yet there is no hint of any intention by the Department to support “objective media” in those countries.
Nor is the proposal without its ironies, as the U.S. has recently denounced Russian Television (RT), which is broadcast internationally and partially financed by Moscow, as foreign engagement in America media.
The issue is not about the respective merits of media freedom. Its advancement, along with the full rubric of human rights, has long been an internationalized priority subscribed to by all the democracies of the world. Nor is there any question that after only a few short years of regaining their independence from Soviet oppression Hungarians can themselves take steps to strengthen civil society and democratic institutions there.
What should be questioned, however, is the efficacy and wisdom of directly intervening in Hungary’s political and media environment and incessantly and publicly criticizing and lecturing Hungarians as they struggle to solidify a working democracy. This holds true especially in those instances when the criticism is not based on facts and is not free of what is perceived to be political bias.
Having regained their sovereignty and independence, many Hungarians are not about to acquiesce in what they view as an attempt by outsiders to impose their political preferences. This should be seen as understandable in view of their uprisings and wars of independence against the Hapsburgs in 1848 and most memorably the Soviet Union in 1956 in a “shot heard round the world” in the very spirit of the American Revolution. Hungarians also played a key role in helping to dismantle the Iron Curtain in 1989.
But rather than swaying public opinion in Hungary, the Department’s interventionist policies are seen as demeaning and humiliating, with the Hungarian man-on-the-street seeing them as resembling yet more dictations from the Great Powers.
In fact, DRL’s proposed actions have tinges that are reminiscent of the Cold War, when on December 27, 1977, former CIA Director William Colby testified about the Agency’s actions to influence politics in other countries through the media: “Obvious ways to exercise influence have been through foreign newspapers and other media,” he said.
Furthermore, these actions would be inconsistent with the Administration’s own policies in dealing with other countries, especially American allies. As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated in his remarks before the Wilson Center on November 28, 2017, we “recognize that our [European] allies are independent and democratic nations with their own history, perspective, and right to determine their future.”
Earlier in May of last year, President Trump himself stated while in Saudi Arabia that “America will not seek to impose our way of life on others, but to outstretch our hands in the spirit of cooperation and trust. . . .We are not here to lecture—we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership -- based on shared interests and values – to pursue a better future for us all.”
Following this declaration, on August 21 he unambiguously articulated U.S. expectations from allies such as Hungary relative to Afghanistan: “Our troops will fight to win.. . .We will ask our NATO allies and global partners to support our new strategy, with additional troop and funding increases in line with our own. . . [O]ur allies and partners must contribute much more money to our collective defense.”
Winning over Hungarian public opinion to support these policies, instead of inviting alienation by openly intervening in Hungary’s politics and media, is critical to advancing these vital American goals and aspirations.
For positive bilateral relations between the United States and Hungary, as well as a strong and united NATO, are in the interest of both countries. Both are necessary to successfully confront formidable regional challenges, which include a neighboring and aggressive Russia not reconciled to loss of empire, ongoing terrorist threats, the denial of rights of Hungarian minorities living in states adjoining Hungary, and other crises.
The key question, therefore, that warrants re-examination is whether there might be better means of communicating U.S. concerns – to the extent they are warranted -- than ongoing public criticism and escalating interference in Hungary’s internal affairs. These are hardly likely to yield productive results but are more than likely to alienate a friend and NATO ally willing to exercise a “leadership role on behalf of international peace and security,” the very role Senator McCain has envisioned for Hungary.
In conclusion, explaining and sharing American values and accomplishments without unduly intervening in Hungary’s internal affairs under the guise of promoting democracy would do far more to advance U.S. interests and policy goals in the region than the current approach. Bi-lateral relations would be bolstered while NATO would be strengthened.
The stakes for both the United States and Hungary are high, and as such they warrant a reevaluation of U.S. policy toward Hungary before any counterproductive initiatives, such as the one proposed by DRL, are implemented.
*Frank Koszorus, Jr., is an attorney and consultant and follows developments in Hungary. He is the Chairman of the Board of the 111 year old American Hungarian Federation. He has lectured; written; debated; testified before congressional committees; and briefed officials concerning Hungary. In 1997, Mr. Koszorus travelled to NATO headquarters, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic on a fact-finding mission sponsored by the U.S. Departments of Defense and State on NATO enlargement. He also served as a public member of the U.S delegation to the Paris Conference on the Human Dimension.
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12/06/2017 - AHF writes letter to US Department of State to express its deep concern over the its Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor's (DRL) intent to take active measures to intervene in Hungary's political environment. AHF, founded 110 years ago, has long supported positive bilateral relations between the United States and Hungary as a means of advancing U.S. strategic interests in Central and Eastern Europe and feels such public criticism jeopardizes those interests.
01/24/2017 - AHF submits letter to President Trump on improving American-Hungarian relations and urging his Administration to adopt a new approach to our bilateral relations with Hungary. The letter noted, "misunderstandings have resulted in flawed and self-defeating policies that tend to foster disillusionment with the U.S. among Hungarians and thereby damage U.S. strategic interests."
02/08/2017 - AHF continues its outreach to the new administration, submits letter to Secretary of State Tillerson urging the United States to adopt a new approach to bilateral relations with Hungary. The letter urges the administration to "advance U.S. strategic interests and goals in the region as well as promote American values and hold out its accomplishments in a manner that will inspire positive reforms, including the treatment of Hungarian minorities in Hungary’s neighboring countries. [read more]
10/10/14 - AHF submits letter to President Obama: "...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. We... 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." [read more]
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]
5/18/2016 - AHF and PAC address Bill Clinton's Hungary remarks: The Presidents of the American Hungarian Federation and the Polish American Congress issue a joint statement objecting to the collective characterization by former President Bill Clinton of the Hungarian and Polish people as tired of democracy and desirous of “authoritarian dictatorship.” [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]
1/20/2015 - Politics.hu publishes Op-Ed by AHF President, Frank Koszorus, "What is the endgame for U.S.-Hungarian relations? "In a Tweet on January 12, 2015, US Embassy Charge d’Affaires Andre Goodfriend quoted Stephen I, the first king of Hungary (975–1038), who urged his son Emeric to welcome foreigners.The Tweet...clearly made in response to the Hungarian Prime Minister's recent policy statement... that Hungary and Europeshould, with the exception of political asylum, curb economic immigration. [read more]
1/15/2015 - Federation leaders meet with new US Ambassador to Hungary Colleen Bell and Hungarian Desk Officer Ivan Weinstein. The meeting took place at the State Department and was intended to review American / Hungarian bilateral relations with Ambassador Bell as she prepares to take up her post in Budapest shortly.
12/17/14 - AHF Meets with Kathy Kavalec, Director, U.S. Department of State, Office of Russian Affairs: On December 17, AHF met with Kathy Kavalec, Director, U.S. Department of State, Office of Russian Affairs, to discuss Russia's policies and activities in Central Europe, including Hungary, and U.S. response thereto. "Our Federation believes that 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 in the region," said the Federation's president Frank Koszorus, Jr. "Winning instead of alienating public opinion is critical to advance these goals," he added.
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?" [tovább]
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]
UPDATE: 7/25/2008 - American Hungarian Federation Participates in CEEC Meeting with Senator Schumer: Discusses Russia "Hegemony" statement.
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.