Embattled Hungarian government launches US charm offensive

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have both raised concerns directly with Hungarian officials during recent visits to the country. And lawmakers — chief among them Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) — have criticized the Orban government in floor speeches and held hearings on rising antisemitism and discrimination against the Roma in central Europe.

“It is no wonder then that in Freedom House's latest 'Nations in Transit' survey … Hungary had declined in ratings for civil society, independent media, national democratic governance, and judicial framework and independence,” Cardin said in a July 5, 2011, floor speech. “Ironically, just as attention shifts to the tantalizing possibility of democratic reform in the Middle East, the red flags in Budapest keep multiplying.”

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Kovacs said such criticism hurts Hungary because it “gives an impression that something is going wrong.” To the contrary, he said, Hungary is a stalwart NATO ally that's always been reliable in the war on terrorism.

He blamed the U.S. criticism on miscommunication.

Hungary is a small country with a language few people speak, Kovacs said, and the country's legal reforms can get “lost in translation.” 

“We have problems getting our messages straight to the goal,” Kovacs said. “Instead of being listened to, we experience kind of a distorting prism.”

He also blamed long-established ties between left-of-center parties in Europe and U.S. groups for painting a distorted picture of what's happening in Hungary.

“Instead of relying on those channels, we are trying to [reach out directly] to journalists, think tanks, politicians,” Kovacs said. “In central Europe, center-right governments have a history of being criticized immediately upon coming to power. It's no conspiracy theory – it's just experience.”