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The PM and the US Ambassador met „as friends”

October 20th, 2011

Hungary’s national dailies offer diametrically opposed interpretations of Tuesday’s meeting between PM Viktor Orbán and US ambassador Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis. Left wing newspapers believe the Hungarian government was severely criticised for what they term its undemocratic tendencies, while pro-government commentators suggest that no words of censure were uttered.

“Orbán criticised” reads the banner headline in Népszabadság, while the main article on the front of Magyar Nemzet suggests “Nothing like a protest from America.” Both newspapers reproduce the text of the short communiqué issued after the meeting, but draw very different conclusions.

Népszabadság recalls an OpEd column in the Washington Post last week, which claimed that the State Department was getting increasingly irritated by PM Orbán’s policies.  Columnist Al Kamen claimed that Ms Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis had been instructed to lodge a formal démarche with Mr Orbán, which would complain that Hungary had disregarded earlier warnings and statements of concern from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (BudaPost, July 4). Al Kamen also wrote that PM Orbán had not found the time to receive the US ambassador since August, but “one of these days, despite his ducking and dodging, the process-server will catch him.”

In an OpEd article in Népszabadság, Sándor András Nagy describes Al Kamen as an extremely influential veteran journalist, with thirty years’ experience in reporting from the State Department and with excellent ties to all levels of US diplomacy.

Népszabadság also quotes an unnamed diplomatic source as saying “the question is not whether, but when Orbán will end up understanding America’s criticism.” Népszabadság’s source is confident that “the Atlanticist group within Fidesz still exists, and will not allow relations with the United States to degenerate.”

Magyar Nemzet, on the other hand, believes that the meeting brought “disappointment for all those who expected PM Orbán to be wrapped over the knuckles.” The pro-government daily also quotes unnamed sources who described the meeting as very much a routine consultation. The author, Gábor László Zord dismisses the allegations contained in the Wasington Post OpEd article, and quotes Al Kamen’s sentence comparing Mr Orbán to Belorussian president Lukashenko as an example of the article’s (low) value. “Al Kamen has not shown too much expertise in Central European affairs so far,” Zord continues, and mentions that Hungary currently stations over five hundred soldiers in Afghanistan as part of the international force, and that seven Hungarian servicemen have lost their lives there.

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