Budapest Telegraph

Letter to the Editor: a Hungarian-American businessman's views on US-Hungarian ties

Friday Dec 19, 2014

George F. Hemingway | Source: Népszabadság

The author, a Hungarian-born US industrialist, thinks that it is probable that when representatives of the United States and Hungary: two allied and friendly countries, sit to the negotiating table and address the real causes of their conflict in a businesslike dialogue, the US-Hungarian friendship will be quickly restored.

I love the United States, which I consider a country where there is liberty, integrity and unquestionable rule of law. That’s why I’m keen to explore the events that have led to the visa affair. [See our earlier reports here and here]

In 2010 and 2014 a political party that embraces the Hungarian version of National Socialism, anti-Semitism and anti-Gypsy sentiments – views that are far removed from the ideology and policies of [Fidesz] the present ruling party – made it to parliament obtaining many seats. The United States has been paying special attention to countries where parties and individuals committed to inhuman ideals play a high-profile role in public life. I think the emergence of the Jobbik party launched the process that has by now culminated in an undesirable and perhaps unjustified international attention in Hungary and the cancelation of the US visa of certain Hungarian citizens. From that moment the US has been paying much more attention to Hungary than other European countries in a similar situation. It didn’t improve the situation either that, since 2010, the members of the so-called Democratic Opposition have made statements in which, unjustifiably, certain politicians of Fidesz were associated with the abominable Hungarian neo-Arrow-Cross movement.


Paraphrasing an idea of Ayn Rand, I state that positive goals and a healthy egoism are making the world go round. The United States intends to prevent Europe from becoming dependent energy-wise from countries that are not committed to the ideals of the Free World. Russia is such a country. Geopolitical developments and surplus energy resources of the United States indicate that in the foreseeable future the United States can take part in the Europe’s energy supply, which means the countries of the European Union can become independent of the import of energy resources from Russia.


Hungary and the countries in the CEE region see this question in a different light. Though they still remember the ruthless occupation policy of the Soviets during a forty-year period – they wish to make a more balanced approach to energy policy. As far as the South Stream and the expansion of the Paks nuclear power plant are concerned, the Hungarian government intends to rely on Russian energy resources.


It doesn’t mean that Hungary doesn’t intend to adjust to the European Union’s energy policy but the incumbent Hungarian government is more committed to retaining the Russian energy option than what would please the United States. Thus the political and economic interests of the two countries do not fully coincide. The Hungarian government is convinced that its business dealings with Russia serve the best interests of Hungary, but the United States is worried that energy deals with Russia might spawn anti-American political influence in the future.


Russia has carried out a military intervention in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine. That is a fact that cannot be embellished or kept in secret. The Russian Federation has attacked a sovereign state and annexed a part of it, plus it is now attempting to annex eastern Ukraine. That’s an extremely dangerous precedent, especially if it goes unanswered. I think Hungary and the United States fully agree about that. What they disagree about is how to respond.


In the past fifty years economic boycotts have been almost totally ineffective worldwide. Economic boycotts can impoverish a people or a country but they cannot have dictators removed.


When the United States declares an economic boycott against Russia, that doesn’t cause serious consequences for the economy of the US and Russia but the situation of Europe is different. For Hungary exporting to and importing from Russia is, if not a question of life or death, but a very important economic issue. The boycott is harmful to the Hungarian economic interests even if politically and militarily the Hungarian position is fully identical with that of the United States and with that of the other European countries that are so enthusiastically backing the boycott. No one wishes to give a military response to a military/political problem, which means the economic boycott is the only tool that can be used. Hungary, a member of the European Union and NATO, has declared that obviously it takes part in the boycott even though it doesn’t agree with it. The Hungarian position has made the boycott a controversial issue – which has once again provoked negative responses in the United States.


Barack Obama is a president belonging to the left wing of the Democratic Party, who is extremely unpopular in the US at the moment and who cannot come to terms with his conservative fellow Americans either. It is therefore not surprising that he doesn’t like the ideas of Hungary’s center-right government. Obama is attempting to dissuade European governments from following the Orbán government’s course. My guess is that, had the United States had a conservative president, he/she would handle the US–Hungarian relations in a totally different tone and manner. I state that despite the statement by Senator McCain, which was unfortunate, unworthy of him and unjust.




It is perhaps obvious for everyone that Hungary is not the most corrupt state in the world. International analyses have pointed out that corruption is stronger and more institutionalized in Italy, Greece, Romania and some other countries. Hence it follows that there is no single cause that would explain the visa affair.


Let us separate the fact of declaring some Hungarians ineligible for US visa from making that decision public. I don’t know who and why wanted to make that decision public. I think it is quite unlikely that the US wanted that. If the persons affected wanted it to reach the public, or the persons standing behind them, that was a major mistake because they prevented a process to run its full course and in the eyes of the general public rumor and accusations have unnecessarily smeared the reputation of people.


The document that has been handed over by the US embassy to the Hungarian government explains it all. US firms and Hungarian opposition Members of Parliament have appealed to the US embassy in Budapest for help over various cases, including tax cases. That US companies operating in Hungary did so is not unusual – that happens in other countries day by day. Perhaps those US companies experienced some difficulties; perhaps they witnessed cases of corruption or didn’t like a new law that violated their interests. Their complaints were followed up by embassy staff that had talks with Hungarian government officials. As it turned out later, the Hungarian authorities took those complaints seriously and several criminal proceedings were launched in the wake of the US complaints.


My guess is that the Hungarian officials were content with the way they responded to the US complaints about corruption but they failed to report back about the results of their inquiries to the US diplomats. They were, obviously, not duty-bound to do so but that would have been wiser. As it turned out later, the US embassy had no evidence whatsoever to prove that the head of the Hungarian tax authority participated in or abetted corruption. The US constitution does not protect foreign citizens. Rights that are taken for granted within the United States are not applied to foreigners.


This conflict is regrettable but, in my view, both countries are simply protecting their own interests. That is the cause of the disagreement. The rest is made-up excuses – which can embarrass also innocent people. I think it is probable that when representatives of the two allied and friendly countries sit to the negotiating table and address the real causes of the conflict in a frank dialogue, the US–Hungarian friendship will be restored in no time.

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