AHF Letter to the Editor
11/27/09 -- American Hungarian Federation and others express their concern about sweeping statements made by Ambassador in interview concerning Hungary. The Washington Times publishes Federation's letter and former Foreign Service Officer pens letter to the Ambassador. "[The Ambassador is] ignoring an exceedingly complex social problem that not even the government has been able to address effectively. While discussing prejudice, he also could have referred to the intolerance toward the Hungarian minorities throughout the region.
Hungarian Ambassador Bela Szombati's interview with The Washington Times is unique in its characterization of Hungary ("Ready for rebound," Embassy Row, World, Nov. 18). Mr. Szombati's optimistic prediction that Hungary is poised for an economic recovery must be welcome news for Hungarians. They deserve a more robust growth cycle following the mismanagement of the past several years, which exacerbated the effects of the global financial crisis in Hungary.
The ambassador's reference to interethnic relations in Hungary, including the situation of the Roma, mentions only "hatred" and "a lot of prejudice," thereby ignoring an exceedingly complex social problem that not even the government has been able to address effectively. While discussing prejudice, he also could have referred to the intolerance toward the Hungarian minorities throughout the region. The discriminatory language law in Slovakia that criminalizes the use of the Hungarian language is a prime example of such intolerance, and it is an issue that is not receiving the attention it deserves.
While Hungarians are learning how to live in their newly restored democracy, as stated by the ambassador, he neglected to mention that these problems can be traced directly to the 45 years of totalitarianism imposed on Hungary during the Cold War. He could have pointed out that the strong democratic vein running through Hungary's modern history will ensure that his country's political future will be bright, especially after the old impulses and lingering negative effects of the previous dictatorship disappear.
In support of this assertion, the ambassador could have mentioned the great Hungarian democrats: Louis Kossuth, who led the reform movement and war of independence against Austria in 1848 and whose bust is on display in the U.S. Capitol; the Smallholders of 1945 who won democratic elections despite Soviet occupation and interference; the freedom fighters of the 1956 revolution; or the democratic opposition in the late 1980s that helped topple communism.
Absent this historical context, the published interview left an erroneous impression about Hungary, an impression the ambassador clearly did not want to leave.
FRANK KOSZORUS JR.
November 24, 2009
Louis S. Segesvary, Ph.D.
Ambassador Béla Szombati
Dear Ambassador Szombati:
As a Hungarian-American, it is with some dismay that I read your recent interview in The Washington Times on the current state of affairs in Hungary. When you stated that there is “hatred, prejudice, a lot of prejudice, especially toward the Roma” in the country, I wonder why you couldn’t have provided some backdrop and context as to the difficult assimilation issues associated with the Roma population.
I say this with all due respect and admiration for the Roma, having been raised in a home where their sensitive and imaginative music was both a cause for enjoyment and pride. Most of the Hungarians I know fully support the civic rights of the Roma and would be the first to decry any animosity or prejudice directed to them. Unfortunately, there are without doubt a number of Hungarians who do not share these sentiments. But you seem to be painting Hungary as a whole, without any qualification, with the broad brush of hatred and prejudice. No indication is given to the fact that many homes were like mine, where the Roma were appreciated for their cultural contributions.
As a former career American diplomat, I was schooled in the importance of providing a fair and balanced portrait of my country abroad. And while the United States has had its own troubled racial history, far more extensive than anything Hungary has experienced with the Roma, I don’t know that I would ever have used the kind of sweeping, condemning language in representing my country that you have used with regard to Hungary. I am sure that was not your intention, but regrettably your words conveyed a lack of both proportion and nuance.
I was also disappointed to see your characterization of Hungary as some kind of political backwater, in which people are only “learning how to debate” and “learning how to handle our political opponents.” To say this of a country that produced one of the greatest 19th century European proponents of democracy, Kossuth Lajos, widely celebrated in the United States with streets and towns named after him, seems to me a little far fetched to say the least. As you well know, in its thirst for freedom and democracy, Hungary twice revolted on the world stage against its oppressors, first in the rebellion against the Hapsburg dynasty in 1848 and then in 1956 in another rebellion against overwhelming Soviet military power. It was about that last brutally crushed revolution that Albert Camus could write, “Hungary conquered and in chains has done more for freedom and justice than any people for twenty years.”
The political tensions that exist in Hungary today have less to do with learning the ways of democracy and more to do with the lack of public trust in manipulative politicians. Considering the robustness of the press in Hungary, the vigorous civic discourse, and the broad public support for its democratic institutions and procedures -- multi-party politics, a transparent electoral process, and the rule of law -- I would think that Hungary should be commended for its progress in re-establishing democracy after 45 years of Soviet-backed totalitarian oppression instead of being treated to the kind of condescension reserved for school children, which again, I am sure was not your intention.
Let me just add that if you have been misquoted in any respect in your interview, I hope you will consider sending a letter to the editor to set the record straight.
Respectfully and with my compliments,
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
READY FOR REBOUND
The Hungarian ambassador is confidently predicting that his country, after hitting bottom during the global financial crisis, is poised for an economic recovery and just waiting for the rest of the world to catch up.
"Next year Hungary will be best off in the European Union," Ambassador Bela Szombati told editors and reporters at The Washington Times. "The government has done a tremendous job. We're in a good position. We're waiting for the next growth cycle."
The only obstacle toward recovery would be slow growth in Germany, a major market for Hungarian exports.
"If there is no growth in Germany, it would be extremely difficult to get growth in Hungary," he said.
Mr. Szombati credited the government of Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai for facing the severe economic morass and setting Hungary on a path toward recovery. Mr. Bajnai took office after the March resignation of Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany and secured support from parliament for deep cuts in social programs and other measures.
Among those cuts, Hungarian government employees and retirees lost an extra month's salary, called the "13th month" paycheck, and the government increased the retirement age to 65 from 62. However, most Hungarians took early retirement after turning 58.
"There were also deep cuts in government expenditures," the ambassador added.
He noted that the government imposed a "strict-disciplined economic and budgetary policy" that has resulted in a favorable review from the International Monetary Fund, which was keeping Hungary afloat with a $25.1 billion rescue plan.
Mr. Szombati said the government's economic measures are expected to meet its goal of reducing the budget deficit to 3.9 percent of the gross domestic product next year, down from a high of 9 percent in 2006.
The economic crisis was accompanied by political turmoil and a rise in ethnic violence, especially against Hungary's Roma, or Gypsy, population.
"There is hatred, prejudice, a lot of prejudice, especially toward the Roma," Mr. Szombati said. "It truly is the biggest hurdle we face."
However, Mr. Szombati said Hungarians, only 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, are still learning how to live in a democracy.
"What is going on in Hungary reminds me of what was going on in this country in the 1780s and early 1800s," Mr. Szombati said, referring to the political and economic instability that followed the American Revolution.
"We are learning how to debate. We are learning how to handle our political opponents."
The ambassador said he was trying to be candid about the social and political conditions in Hungary.
"I'm not putting a spin on it. I'm offering you my analysis," he said. "A lot of people are disappointed by what they see, but they have not given up on democracy."
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11/27/09 -- American Hungarian Federation and others express their concern about sweeping statements made by Ambassador in interview concerning Hungary. The Washington Times publishes Federation's letter and former Foreign Service Officer pens letter to the Ambassador. "[The Ambassador is] ignoring an exceedingly complex social problem that not even the government has been able to address effectively. While discussing prejudice, he also could have referred to the intolerance toward the Hungarian minorities throughout the region."[Read more]
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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
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