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Right-wing columnist criticizes prospective US ambassador

January 20th, 2014

A conservative columnist known for his frequently critical remarks on US foreign policy accuses the prospective US ambassador to Budapest of infringing upon Hungarian sovereignty with her critical sentences about the state of democratic checks and balances in Hungary.

In her Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Thursday, Ms Colleen Bell, the future US ambassador to Budapest praised Hungary as a reliable partner and a strong ally. At the same time, she expressed concerns over the strengthening of right-wing extremism and what she regarded as the weakening of democratic checks and balances. Ms. Bell told senators she intended to “maintain an open – and at times difficult – dialogue on the importance of upholding shared values and democracy”.

In her speech, Colleen Bell has severely interfered in Hungary’s internal affairs, István Lovas comments in Magyar Nemzet. The pro-government columnist recalls that US ambassadors in the past were also particularly critical under right-wing Hungarian governments. In 2001, under the first Orbán government, Nancy Goodman Brinker warned a month after her arrival of what she saw as an unprecedented increase in anti-Semitism and xenophobia. But no prospective ambassador went as far as to voice criticism before leaving for Hungary, Lovas notes. In an aside, he adds that Ms. Bell spoke in favour of strengthening trade links and cooperation on security including energy security between the two countries, which according to Lovas is a clear indication that the US will try to exert pressure on Hungary regarding the Paks nuclear deal and the South Stream pipeline agreements with Russia (see BudaPost January 16). As for democratic values and tolerance, Lovas suggests that the US is applying double standards. He wonders when US ambassadors to neighboring countries with substantial Hungarian minorities have spoken up in defence of minority rights, when the embassy to Israel has called for tolerance towards Palestinians or when the ambassador in Riyadh has demanded human rights for Saudis. In his concluding remark, Lovas contends that instead of futile and costly efforts to appease the US, the Hungarian government should show more determination to protect Hungarian sovereignty, just as the government of Iceland did in 2011 when it refused to cooperate with the FBI (and even asked US agents investigating WikiLeaks to leave Iceland).

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