Suing A Goodfriend in Budapest
December 11, 2014 2:28 PM   Subscribe

The Head of the Hungarian Tax authority, Ildiko Vida, is suing the Charge d’Affaires at the United States embassy in Budapest, M. André Goodfriend, for defamation after it emerged that Ms Vida was one of six Hungarian officials banned from entering the United States over alleged corruption. This followed the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, saying that Ms Vida sould be relieved of her role if she did not undertake legal proceedings. US-Hungary relations have been strained for some time over the banning and were recently exacerbated by Senator John McCain's description of Hungary as "a nation that’s on the verge of ceding its sovereignty to a neo-fascist dictator". While Budapest awaits the arrival of the recently confirmed US Ambassador, Colleen Bell,(former producer of the The Bold and the Beautiful and fund raiser for President Obama) FIDESZ's popularity has fallen dramatically in recent months. A large protest march is planned (link in Hungarian) for this Sunday. . This follows large scale protests in October when the Hungarian government announced an Internet tax.
posted by vac2003 (17 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I am a little worried that the government of Hungary is taking economic suggestions from scare emails forwarded by tech-averse grandparents.

Not that the ruling party's decline in popularity is a bad thing....
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:36 PM on December 11, 2014

Not that the ruling party's decline in popularity is a bad thing....

It is if the voters are heading to Jobbik as an alternative. Those illiterate nazi neofascists are only running because they thought "parliament" was the same as "paramilitary".
posted by Talez at 2:49 PM on December 11, 2014 [11 favorites]

Hungarian Spectrum is invaluable for keeping track of this saga. The whole business is an own-goal by the government: the banning was leaked to one of their pet newspapers. Goodfriend has correctly refused to release details as that information is confidential under US law. He's basically been pwning the Fidesz people right and left over this. It's a real shame that Colleen Bell was appointed--while she's no doubt a lovely person she's a diplomatic lightweight and is unlikely to be as effective in Budapest.
posted by orrnyereg at 3:59 PM on December 11, 2014

How ever did she get that posting? Is she being paid out for her efforts in Democrat boosterism?
posted by flippant at 4:21 PM on December 11, 2014

flippant: Yes. Hasn't it always been like that? How did Caroline Kennedy end up ambassador to Japan?
posted by orrnyereg at 4:22 PM on December 11, 2014

"Thank God John McCain is here", said nobody ever.
posted by boo_radley at 4:34 PM on December 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

This follows large scale protests in October when the Hungarian government announced an Internet tax.

Attila: "Our people are now wearing your blue jeans and listing to your pop music. I worry the rest of the world will also succumb to the influence of your culture."
Hungary has submitted a proposal to the UN to embargo you!
posted by pwnguin at 6:05 PM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

50 years ago, a book camed out titled The Ugly American.

The misleading title notwithstanding, the book was mainly about the foreign policy missteps that resulted from sending partisan donors and other dandies to embassies around the world, to basically do nothing more than hobnob at their own soirees, and in praise of lower ranking foreign service agents, who actually went into the field.

One of those agents, fictionalized as Homer Atkins in the book, was in real life an agent in Burma whose willingness to get his hands dirty earned him that nickname.

Plus ca change, baisse ma vie.
posted by ocschwar at 6:09 PM on December 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

So, yes, this has got to change. We need an ambassador in Budapest who actually speaks Hungarian. And who can call out Victor Orban's behavior in Magyar.
posted by ocschwar at 6:09 PM on December 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

McCain actually acknowledged that he has no problem with arrangements like this - "you helped me win and you get to be ambassador" (not his quote, just a characterization). It was a refreshing moment of honesty that he didn't make this practice out to be some dastardly Obama precedent. That's the only good thing I've said about McCain since his "maverick" and campaign finance efforts in the 2000 primaries. He's also almost strangely consistent on disliking torture. That says something about how awful it is. This is a series of unfortunate events to be sure, but if it's a common practice to appoint under qualified ambassadors due to campaign help, it raises the question of the stakes involved in these posts. Does it matter or not? Send in The Clinton.
posted by aydeejones at 7:32 PM on December 11, 2014

(McCain was speaking in the general about political appointments and ambassadorship while also mocking the soap opera specifics of this appointment, I'll have to see if I can find the clip)
posted by aydeejones at 7:33 PM on December 11, 2014

He's also almost strangely consistent on disliking torture. That says something about how awful it is

Probably also because he was actually tortured.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:36 PM on December 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

"Thank God John McCain is here", said nobody ever.

Pretty sure Lindsey Graham says exactly that when he thinks about sitting alone in the cafeteria
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:22 PM on December 11, 2014

aydeejones: "He's also almost strangely consistent on disliking torture."

Yeah, my inbox has been flooded with daily show clips. Thanks guys.
posted by boo_radley at 8:39 PM on December 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Found this program interesting on what's happening in Hungary and elsewhere in Europe. Doesn't look like the documentary Judgement in Hungary is available anymore.
posted by juiceCake at 9:34 PM on December 11, 2014

In Orban's Hungary the most important thing is the communication strategy - what George Orwell called NewSpeak in 1984 - directed at the audience of monolingual Hungarians (70% of the population, the largest percentage in Europe) who get their information from the TV and radio stations that have been largely bought up by local oligarchs backed by FIDESZ. What we are seeing now is the breakdown of the communnication strategy as FIDESZ' politicians are being accused of blatant corruption that can't be hidden from the press. Even some of the conservative (a Hungarian term which has no connection to what it means in the west) media editors have called out FIDESz on corruption this week as the party's popularity declined 30%.

And so: we need a Big Bad Enemy conspiracy. Big Brother Putin dropped the ball on Hungary a few weeks ago by choosing to build his South Stream gas pipeline in Erdogan's Turkey. What better target could there be than Uncle Sam, in the form of US charge d' affairs Andre Goodfriend. Goodfriend is an excellent diplomat: his answers are carefully measured, he doesn't get excited or flustered, and he never responds on a personal level, which is an inherent weakness in Hungarian politics in which everything is personal. When it turned out that several Hungarian officials - including Tax Office chief Ildiko Vida - were implicated in a shakedown of an American business and thus ineligible to recieve USA visas, Goodfriend stuck to protocol and did not publicly release the names of those people. The Hungarian government, however, did leak the names, and then accused Goodfriend of libeling them.

When Ms. Vida - accompanied by a camera crew from the right wing HirTV station - marched to the US Embassy to confront Goodfriend, they ambushed him outside the building taking a walk, but willing to talk. Except that Ms. Vida could not speak English, and was caught on film saying "Ummmm... I would like a translator.." [at 1:05 on this video} This went viral in Hungary, causing much embarrassment to the government.

Orban then demanded that Vida sue Goodfriend or lose her job (which is now likely as she has become a liability) which she did. Goodfriend's response has been to remind the Hungarian officials of the Vienna Convention, which defines diplomatic immunity. Orban's response last week was to call on Goodfriend to renounce his immunity and "Act like a man." Sometimes it feels like the country is being run by a click of football hooligans. Either Orban steps back from the confrontation - which he rarely does - or he risks a major diplomatic mess. If the US has to shutter its Hungarian Emabassy - a first in US-EU relations - I suppose there would be repercussions in Washington as well. Not to speak of NATO...
posted by zaelic at 7:23 AM on December 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

The level of blatant corruption is astounding by any measure. For example, the 10-year son of Orbán's Cabinet Chief, János Lázár, recently "bought" a quarter of a million dollar house in Buda. Obviously with the help of family funds. Nothing suspicious at all. Nothing to see here, move along please.
posted by vac2003 at 11:48 AM on December 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older For you little gardener and lover of trees   |   Coco Chan, the corn eating golden retriever from... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments