Statement by the Hungarian American Coalition

As Hungarian Americans who sincerely value and have actively promoted the bilateral relationship between Hungary, our former homeland, and the United States, our (adopted) home, we are deeply concerned by the tone of the harsh criticism in the mainstream U.S. and European media towards the Hungarian government.

As the country took over the EU presidency in January 2011, the Green and Socialist members of the European Parliament launched an attack against Prime Minister Orbán for silencing his critics with an allegedly undemocratic media law.  Since then, Hungary’s new constitution has been repeatedly criticized, and the European Commission threatened to introduce sanctions against Hungary if it does not change certain cardinal laws approved by the Hungarian Parliament.  Throughout this process, the conservative Orbán government, with a two-thirds parliamentary majority, has been falsely depicted as anti-democratic, dictatorial and untrustworthy.  These accusations have exacerbated the already serious economic crisis in the country as Hungary negotiates with the EU and the IMF to obtain a standby loan.

While exaggerated and often unfounded criticism may serve the interests of the fragmented Hungarian Socialist-liberal opposition, the interests of the EU and the US would be much better served by allowing checks and balances to work through the Hungarian political system.  Democratically elected institutions, including but not limited to the Parliament, are able to carry out this task, if given time to do their work.  The Orbán government has stated repeatedly it is prepared to alter laws, if necessary, as long as the changes meet the requirements of the Hungarian legal system.  For example, the much-maligned media law has been changed, but even before the enacted changes, scathing criticism of the government could be widely heard and read in the free Hungarian press.  As widespread criticism of the government shows, the opposition has had every opportunity to protest and demonstrate against the government.  This is what we expect in free and truly open societies.

Hungary’s current Socialist-liberal opposition has lost all credibility with the Hungarian public, because the country’s present difficulties were caused in large part by their disastrous policies between 2002-2010.  The opposition groups clearly believe it serves their interest to destroy the reputation of the Orbán government.  However, to many fellow Hungarians, their disregard for the potentially dire economic consequences for their homeland is incomprehensible.  Orbán’s Fidesz party was swept into office as the overwhelming choice of a deeply dissatisfied Hungarian electorate.  They vividly recall that the same Socialist-liberal opposition that fears for democracy today raised no concerns about violations of democracy or human rights on the October 23 national holiday in 2006 when, on their “watch”, civilians and innocent bystanders were attacked, arrested and falsely charged in Budapest by the police, many of whom were masked and had their badges covered to conceal their identities.

Many Hungarians also remember that the government of the Socialist-liberal coalition failed to protect innocent citizens in northeast Hungary, by allowing the “Magyar Garda”, a paramilitary organization of the far-right, to openly intimidate members of the Roma community.  It was the Fidesz government who took steps to curb the Magyar Garda.

The man whose character and intentions have been so shrilly attacked is 48 year- old Viktor Orbán.  To many, he is a leader with a dynamic vision and strong conviction to see it through; to others, he is a political daredevil or autocrat.  Yet, he has done exactly what he promised he would if given a large mandate:  to finish the long overdue system change begun, but not completed in 1989, when communism fell in Hungary.  He promised a thorough restructuring of the country, including a new constitution, an aggressive economic program with bold changes in entitlement programs, job creation, debt reduction, and tax and education reform.  He pledged to restore and strengthen values important to Hungarian identity, such as Hungary’s cultural traditions, and its commitment to assist and reconnect Hungary with Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin and in the diaspora.  He asked the voters’ support for finding a way to serve and protect Hungarian interests within the European Union and the Trans-Atlantic Alliance.

So why should Hungary now be given a chance?  Because it is important to remember that the new Hungarian basic law (constitution) entered into force only recently, on January 1st of this year. The political reality is that in Hungary, an ideological schism exists between the right and the left, and Prime Minister Orbán has forced his government’s reforms with great speed – and with some unfortunate mistakes.  To counter the stagnation they saw in the previous government, Fidesz promised seismic changes when they came to power. While we believe they have had good intentions, their tactics and implementation strategy have at times been inadequate, which frustrates many who support their efforts at broad reform. The sheer number of new laws – 350 were passed by the Parliament in the past two years – may have been done at too fast a pace, and that is why we recommend allowing the Constitutional Court sufficient time to render opinions, dismiss or amend some of these cardinal laws: it is a work in progress.

Hungary is a small but proud European nation that deeply values its long-held commitment to freedom. While constructive criticism is welcome and can provide the right incentives, excessive, acerbic and often totally politically motivated pressure is counterproductive. More often than not, these attacks embolden Hungary’s far-right radical Jobbik party, who represent radical elements in Hungary, espousing intolerance, hatred and anti-Semitism.

Hungary must be given a chance to govern now that these structural and constitutional reforms have been enacted.  Yes, critics can and should be vigilant and push for further changes and corrections if necessary.  But political power-plays by the EU and others do not help – they are unacceptable, and more importantly, they are dangerous.  Hungary’s harshest critics certainly do not espouse the goal of strengthening the far right, but their tactics may well have this effect.

We urge true friends of Hungary to tone down the unproductive rhetoric and to remember Hungary is a friend and ally.  Hungary has proven its historic devotion to European democratic values, and must be given a chance to begin to put its economic house in order, and continue to function as a useful member of the Trans-Atlantic Alliance and the European Union, as it has so often done in the past.

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