Dec 07, 2017 - Zoltán Kovács

The last gasps of the ‘concerned about Hungary’ clique

Thomas Melia became a name in Hungary back in 2011 when, as a State Department official, he expressed in testimony before a subcommittee of the US Congress “concern about Hungary‘s democratic trajectory.”

It was one of the early salvos from a circle of policy makers in the US State Department that had decided that something just has to be done about Hungary under the Orbán Government. Over the course of the next few years, they lectured us on checks and balances in a democracy, press freedom, anti-Semitism and even on how to treat our historical figures.

Melia, who was politically appointed to his former position in the Obama Administration, wholly reflects the view that prevailed in the State Department back then because he was one of those who shaped it. This group relied imprudently on biased and politically-motivated sources for their information about Hungary and allowed themselves to get sidetracked from what is most important in the Hungary-US relationship, two allies, matters of core national interest like security, economic stability and migration.

Instead, perhaps because the policies of the Orbán Government did not fit their ideological view of the world, they politicized the relationship and felt it important to pronounce on the domestic affairs of Hungary, matters that they themselves, given that they don’t speak the language, knew very little about. They even became at times an actor in our domestic politics.

This cabal fears that their stance on issues like Hungary are slowly losing sway and they're keen to keep the flame alive. Thomas Melia’s recent piece in – somewhat ironically – The American Interest is an attempt to do just that.

Statements in the article betray his weak grasp of affairs in Hungary and the woefully biased nature of his sources. But he’ll continue to push this information because it promotes the distorted narrative about Hungary in which he has a professional stake.

Here are just a couple of examples and, by the way, on every single issue where the European Commission raised questions, from the media law to the judicial reforms, Hungary passed the test. Case closed. But let’s not let facts get in the way. Here’s Melia:

He writes about an “ongoing and widely documented crackdown on independent voices in Hungary” and claims that Prime Minister Orbán is “systematically undercutting the country’s independent media outlets”. A “widely documented crackdown,” yet he names not one example. Because there are none.

He goes further, claiming that the prime minister is eager to “silence critical voices in the media and civil society, and in the community of diplomats residing in Budapest,” referring to a reaction to the US State Department’s extraordinarily unusual measure to provide 700,000 USD in funding to media in the Hungarian countryside before the 2019 local governmental elections. It is clearly an interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign, independent country — an ally. Yet, the pertinent question of FM Szijjártó – “with how many other NATO allies have you taken such measures?” – remains unanswered.

Towards the end of his article, Melia notes that the Hungarian judiciary has been “eliminated” as an independent branch of government. That simply does not hold up to scrutiny and instead betrays again his ignorance and bias. Anyone who would take a quick look at the rulings of the Constitutional Court or the Kúria (Hungary’s equivalent of a Supreme Court) since 2010 could find many examples when the judiciary took decisions that did not support the government’s or the parliament’s position. The judiciary is safe and sound. Again, we’ve already settled all these questions with the Commission.

I am pleased to see that this view has not totally prevailed in the Hungary-US relationship, even if old habits – uninformed but aggressive interventionism – die hard. Investors have not been convinced that the sky is falling and US investment is on the rise, making it the second largest investor after Germany. Putting behind us the unfortunate era of lecturing and “concerns”, I’m looking forward to the next chapter in our relationship.